Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

Sunak backs the Union with cash, not love-bombs


Devolution has done so much to fracture the UK that, in Scotland, Rishi Sunak’s Budget is an event of the second order. Scottish interest in Budget day is typically limited to whisky duty, support for North Sea industries and the Barnett formula: the additional spending Scotland gets when the Chancellor splurges on England.

Today’s Budget was for all of Britain. Not just Scotland, but Wales and Northern Ireland were weaved throughout Rishi Sunak’s speech. Quite apart from the fiscal or economic merits of the policies announced, the Chancellor’s speech was good politics.

Not long after Sunak was promoted to the Treasury, I was told Scotland was a weak spot for him and he was not particularly up-to-speed on the intricacies of Scottish politics. The speech he delivered today was that of someone who has gone away, hit the books and come away with a decent grasp of the political geography. This was a pro-Union budget from a Prime Ministerial hopeful.

Scottish interest in UK Budget Day is typically limited to whisky duty, support for North Sea industries and the Barnett formula

Sunak did what chancellors do: marshal the political power of the public purse. Funding for the Scottish government would increase by an average of £4.6 billion per year, while Wales would get an extra £2.5 billion and Northern Ireland a further £1.6 billion annually. This was, Sunak said, ‘in real terms, the largest block grants for the devolved administrations since the devolution settlements of 1998’.

What’s more, the ‘planned increase’ in duty on booze including Scotch whisky is being cancelled. Scotland will also benefit from more than £170 million in direct investment via the Levelling Up Fund. With so much political power surrendered to Holyrood in the Blair-Cameron years, all Westminster has left is its ability to outspend the SNP.

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