Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Why exactly have we got devolved administration? And what are we doing with it?

Wed 19 February 2014, 1:37pm

Robin Wilson in the BelTel today:

It is not practicable for Northern Ireland, Scotland and/or Wales to elaborate distinctive welfare systems, though the Executive should at least have taken a passing interest in the profound debates which have taken place in Scotland and Wales about enhanced fiscal autonomy.

And it is utterly pointless to tilt at political windmills by thinking the juggernaut of welfare “reform” can be stopped at the Irish Sea.

This especially so as Sinn Fein has supported the other conservative parties at Stormont in demanding a reduction in corporation tax, which would deprive the finance minister of hundreds of millions a year, and so – alongside the Executive’s persistent failure to put the unpaid fraction of water bills onto the rates, costing hundreds of millions more – deprive him of the wriggle room needed for the welfare cuts to be blunted.

There is some hope that that juggernaut will stall. Duncan Smith’s flagship “universal credit” scheme has proved a hugely costly technological nightmare and may never be rolled out across the UK. And Labour, looking increasingly likely to be re-elected next year after the floods have exposed the insanity of austerity-driven cuts in flood defences, has pledged to repeal the bedroom tax.

But, as usual, the sound and fury involving the two main protagonists at Stormont will be neither here nor there.

All of which begs the question just precisely what sort of agency does this power-sharing executive provide us with?

Last week Quintin Oliver asked a whole bunch of questions as to how the devolved institutions in Cardiff and Belfast will react to either outcome in Scotland’s IndyRef:

“Who has got a set of demands that can build a head of steam? Who is working to avoid divide and rule? Who will be quick to have at least back-channel discussions with the Scots who will of course remain the most powerful voice numerically in that coalition of three the day after?”

Three devolved institutions, four political parties versus a two party coalition in Westminster.

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Comments (7)

  1. cynic2 (profile) says:

    “the Executive should at least have taken a passing interest in the profound debates which have taken place in Scotland and Wales about enhanced fiscal autonomy”

    …..but that would require intellectual capacity and commitment both of which are in short supply

    ” thinking the juggernaut of welfare “reform” can be stopped at the Irish Sea”

    or the Irish Border. But even here we must all pretend that we are insulated from both

    “Sinn Fein has supported the other conservative parties at Stormont” because all that counts is the optics. There in no underlying intellectual coherence in any policies. Its a cat fight

    “There is some hope that that juggernaut will stall.” – a forlorn hope!!!! NO matter who is in power the existing syetem is utterly dysfunctional and unaffordable

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  2. David Crookes (profile) says:

    The GFA devolved certain political powers to local politicians. As long as NI’s electors keep voting for the same parties, her politicians can mummify their own foetid fiefdoms, and insist that the bandages are kept on

    The fact of a unionist FM allows many mummies on my side of the fence to believe that nothing much has changed since the Brookeborough days.

    It will take the shock of a SF FM to persuade those mummies that they ought to remove their bandages, leave the political tomb in which they have been immured, and come out into the sunlight, still reeking of formaldehyde.

    Turn-back-the-clock flegs-and-Twaddell unionism is really an exercise in mummification. I wonder if it will survive for much longer. Should Scotland go off on her own, NI will have to start breathing a fresh and austere new form of air.

    The same goes for a situation in which enough unionist voters proclaim, whether by abstension or by voting for other parties, that they prefer the clear skies of a new unknown world to the grey mists of 1690.

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  3. Well its all part of the Good Friday Agreement so we have it because we voted for it in 1998.
    The fact that nobody actually saw that DUP and SF would be running it…well thats what lies behind the re-think. Those that advocated it all and those who voted for it …including myself …would like the whole sham wound up.
    It was our best chance and we blew it.

    talk of Opposition or Direct Rule or Shared Sovreignty…just about anything would be better than the lies and half-truths. Nobody talks of substance…just hiding the murals while the Tour of Italy passes by.
    Image. Image. Image.
    Nobody must ever see us as we really are.

    I’m not exactly advocating taking to the streets Ukraine-style.
    But too many people want it both ways….condemning the farce and rushing to get a Long Gallery invitation and a photo opportunity in the Ulster Tatler.
    Musing in the Belfast Telegraph….any real point?

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  4. OneNI (profile) says:

    ‘Labour, looking increasingly likely to be re-elected next year’ wishfully thinking from dear old Robin!

    As cynic points out for all their bluster if Labour DO get in I suspect they will keep most of the welfare reform changes as the current system is broken and unaffordable

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  5. streetlegal (profile) says:

    Everyone’s waiting for the giro to arrive – just like the old days…

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  6. Brian Walker (profile) says:

    Robin’s piece is a lament for the sort of reform that is unlikely to happen in England even under a Labour government. Quintin’s questions show understandable frustration but are highly speculative. My own view is that “divide and rule” by Westminster is the least of our problems. The trade- off between lower corporation tax and a smaller block grant is highly problematical.

    Everyone is looking to Scotland, first, to see if the pro- Union parties can agree soon on terms for “devo more” which might prove to be a counter attraction to independence. The chances of agreement are not high; if they exist they would be less than “devo max” and so risk exposing unionist division more than attracting support for the continuing Union.

    To be effective welfare reform means use of tax varying powers. But the Treasury resist reforms that shift the bands so reform would be modest. See the IFS report on welfare in Scotland which comes back to the old issue:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-23512334

    “But the IFS report’s author David Phillips stated he did not believe a “slightly more generous” system, such as that envisioned by the SNP, could be sustained in the long term without “discretionary tax rises or further cuts to spending on public services.”

    This is not the kind of problem the NI Executive wishes to tackle. I ask myself, even the parties could reach agreement, is the size and tax base of NI big enough to implement any substantial welfare reform not fully supported by the UK taxpayer?

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  7. Barnshee (profile) says:

    2This is not the kind of problem the NI Executive wishes to tackle. I ask myself, even the parties could reach agreement, is the size and tax base of NI big enough to implement any substantial welfare reform not fully supported by the UK taxpayer?”

    No

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