Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Regional Pay

There is nothing worse than hypocrisy.

There are, even the most hardened Unionists would admit, pros and cons to the Union. One of the unconditional pros however is that, thanks to national pay bargaining, civil servants get paid the same wherever they work in the UK.

That has always made the Civil Service an attractive career to those based in the peripheral nations and regions. Salary scales set to ensure willing recruitment in the boom economy of the South east of England are applied elsewhere on the basis of that being the rate for the job. After all, a customer adviser in a Job Centre in Liverpool is doing exactly the same job as a customer adviser in Lambeth, on what possible basis should they be paid any less?

That is still a view to which I subscribe. So, in common with the rest of the left, I was outraged by the Tories proposal, leaked over the weekend, to break that principle.

But I also recognise that this principle does not apply to the atomised private sector. There are huge salary differentials across the private sector. I choose the legal profession as an example only because it is the one with which I am most familiar. Certainly,those of us committed to Legal Aid work accept that we will not earn (even nearly) as much as those of our colleagues engaged in the corporate sector. That however is our choice. The support staff don't have that luxury of choice. The reality is that the secretarial staff in (shall we say) a Legal aid Practice in Cumbernauld are paid considerably less than the secretarial staff working for a blue chip practice in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square.

And yet, in a perfect market model, neither the Legal Aid practice or the blue chip example are paying any more than is required to attract a workforce of appropriate competence. Even if that workforce has entirely interchangeable skills. Why? Because it is cheaper to live in Cumbernauld than it is to live in Edinburgh. Just as it is cheaper to live, even, in Edinburgh than it is to live in London.

So the issue of local pay raises genuine issues of whether your pay should reflect what you do or what you (need to) spend.

As I say, I am for national pay bargaining. and, as a taxpayer, take the view that if national Government Departments based in London can't attract staff at the wages available then that is an argument for moving the Department to a part of the country where they would not anticipate that difficulty, not for paying more to the staff unwilling to either relocate there or to relocate to the apparent abundance of private sector comparators against whom their pay is set.

Even I accept however that this still leaves unresolved issues about how to deal with those: fireman, nurses, policemen and the like for whom geographic location is an essential part of their employment.

The hypocrisy in this is however is in the position of the SNP. It cannot be stated too often that the official position of the SNP is that an Independent Scotland would carry only a very slightly worse public expenditure deficit than the UK. And the official position of the SNP is that this deficit would need to be addressed, just as the UK Government and opposition agree that the UK Government deficit needs addressed, albeit disagreeing about the mechanism.

Now, is it remotely possible in the current financial circumstance, indeed in any conceivable financial circumstance, that Scottish public service wages would be set by reference to the private sector wages enjoyed in the most booming geographic region of a foreign country? Is it remotely possible that, in the context of an Independent Country, that the private sector workforce, who remain the great majority, would be happy to endorse public sector pay significantly higher than their own?

It is an inevitable consequence of Independence that Scottish public service wages would be re-aligned to more accurately reflect Scottish private sector wages. And, in the absence of an economic boom which even Eck isn't shameless enough to predict, that means cut. If not in absolute gross terms, certainly by the operation of inflation, as indeed public sector wages are currently being cut by the coalition. Only more so.

And this is what leads me to the hypocrisy. This morning, Joan McAlpine wrote in the Daily Record suggesting that Independence was necessary to preserve that public/private pay differential. The woman has no shame. She is lying and she knows she is lying. But just as other lies are told: "Independence will allow a massive cut in corporate taxation"; "Independence will preserve free higher education"; later even this same day,"it doesn't matter if Orkney and Shetland come along"...........I could go on almost indefinitely. It would appear that the SNP strategy is just the bigger the lie, the less likely you are to be to be found out.

I don't make comparisons like this lightly, but this is what did for Mussolini. The fiction, for that is what it was, that Italy was, in 1940, was remotely capable of engaging on equal terms with military powers of the first rank might have started with hysterical crowds in the Piazza Venezia but it ended with him and poor Clara Petacci hanging upside down outside a Milan petrol station.

It is perfectly possible to make an intellectually honest argument for Scottish Independence; the pros and the cons.

But if we don't admit the cons we will just end up with a con of a different sort entirely.


  1. "It cannot be stated too often that the official position of the SNP is that an Independent Scotland would carry only a very slightly worse public expenditure deficit than the UK"

    When something is a complete lie, stating it once is too often.

  2. Actually, it's Ian who needs to, because I can't prove a negative - where is this "official SNP position" laid out? The SNP's actual position is that an independent Scotland would be better off.