This is turning out to be quite a week for the fissiparous tendency in the British body politic. As students demonstrated against the prospect of 80% cuts in tuition funding throughout the nation, it was the Welsh Assembly government which stole the march on the others by promising to pay the difference between the present fees and the £6 to 9,000 a year universities will soon be able to charge. What’s more, the subsidy will extend to Welsh students studying anywhere in the UK. It seems this largesse will be funded at the expense of teacher education. The move is bound to raise student temperatures all round, particularly among the massed ranks of the less favoured English. Cameron, Clegg and Co can only hope that the Welsh will find the bill unaffordable in the end and that any differentials will disappear when it comes to the actual reckoning.
Through gritted teeth no doubt, the SNP government is warning that uni fees, scrapped with fanfare two years ago, will soon have to be reimposed, at a higher rate presumably, so the shock to Scottish students will be all the greater. A similar warning has been issued at Stormont.
Will NI students receive the Welsh treatment, especially the extension to locals studying across the water ? Very unlikely, I’d guess, as for one thing, the powers that be will want to keep them at home and do all they can to halt the brain drain. ( Incidentally I wonder what the figures for the drain are?)
The issue of greater powers for the Scottish Parliament and the Assemblies in Cardiff Bay and Stormont will in their different ways, start to hot up soon in advance of next year’s elections. Of greatest significance is the Scotland Bill to deliver tax varying powers to Holyrood that they Scottish government will actually implement, whoever wins power. The BBC’s Brian Taylor neatly lays out the threats and opportunities. Stand by for endless political jockeying between now and next May’s elections.
A narrow Welsh majority is declaring in favour of greater powers too according to a BBC poll – although only 37% say they’ll definitely vote in next year’s referendum. While in Belfast, Mark Devenport draws a blank in a search for enthusiasm for a lower local rate of corporation tax in the bowels of the Treasury.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London