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On a journey

Brian Taylor | 13:31 UK time, Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Edwin Morgan's poetic scope stretched from Glasgow to Saturn.

Today, on the election trail, I travelled a rather shorter distance: from Newton Mearns to Govan.

But that sojourn prompted me to think, again, about the differential impact of policies: in particular, taxation and National Insurance.

As so often in politics, it is a question of perspective.

In prosperous, suburban Newton Mearns, one might expect to find a ready audience for the Tory plan to reverse most of the planned increase in NI due from next April.

By contrast, if you are in urban, struggling Govan - and lack a job at all - then perhaps that offer on NI might mean less.

Perhaps you might be more inclined to heed the argument advanced by the Prime Minister and Scottish secretary in the Commons today that such a cut cannot be afforded.

'Tax on jobs'

Against that, the Tories will argue that holding back the increase in NI will stimulate growth, helping Govan as well as Newton Mearns.

In response, Labour say that their NI increase will not take effect until next year, by which time they expect growth to have resumed relatively strongly.

They argue that, in the bygoing, the Tory plan will cut £6bn from public spending.

For the SNP, Alex Salmond indicated in his message to the Federation of Small Business Conference in Aberdeen that he opposed the NI hike as a tax on jobs.

For the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable has said that he deplores the planned increase in NI but believes that the Tories have comprehensively failed to demonstrate how they would fund the switch.

There is, of course, an added subtlety in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has, presently, no control over NI or indeed most taxation.

But it is responsible for the allocation of spending.

Barnett review

The SNP, of course, wants fiscal autonomy on the road to independence. But, for this election, their more immediate focus is upon the spending element of that Scottish dichotomy.

The SNP strategy, displayed again at Scottish Questions in the Commons, is to claim that substantial spending cuts will follow the election of either a Tory or a Labour government and that SNP champions are required to counter this tendency.

Mr Salmond is now pursuing a further aspect of this.

He is challenging the Tories to state that they would not instigate a needs review of the Barnett formula without agreement with the Scottish Government.

I suspect the SNP leader knows only too well that an incoming Chancellor cannot make such a pledge.

That would be to surrender control of an element of overall public spending, to offer a veto to Holyrood.

Robust defence

Mr Salmond's response to that will be to say that there is little point in the Tories talking about "respecting" the devolved settlement if they are planning to raid Scottish funds.

The Tories will dispute that interpretation.

Longer term, whoever wins, it seems likely that the Treasury will indeed instigate a needs-based review of spending across the UK, not least because, for example, the Barnett Formula has fallen out of favour in Wales.

Scotland could and would mount a robust defence.

I can hear you saying: aye, Brian, they talk of little else in Govan and Newton Mearns. But it matters. It matters.

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