Helen Martin: Don’t blame Scots for poor English policies

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THE row over the funding gap between Scottish and English universities shows no sign of abating. It was fuelled again last week when Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney’s budget included more cash for Scottish unis and more funding for students.

I don’t want to be racist here but I am getting increasingly fed up with the continuing, whinging objections from English students and English commentators who wail that it’s “unfair” they should pay more than anyone else if they study in Scotland.

Their government has the same liberty as Holyrood to decide how to spend its money. Obviously it didn’t think funding university places was a suitable use of public money. Scotland did.

In fact if anyone moved the goalposts it was Westminster who introduced the crippling fees for their under-graduates in the first place.

Education funding is just one of several things that come from your home turf rather than where you choose to access the service.

Care home funding for the elderly for example, comes from the local authority where the person lived independently, regardless of where in the country they go into care.

My old mum’s local authority contribution comes from East Renfrewshire for example, because that’s where she was from before she came to a nursing home near me in Edinburgh. The rules and allowances may be broadly the same in theory, but not all local authorities’ social work departments apply exactly the same criteria when assessing such things as when the personal care element cranks up to the more costly nursing care rate – as I know to mum’s expense. She’d have been much better off if she was originally from Edinburgh. But that’s life. It could have been worse; she could have lived in England.

I’m not flag-waving for the SNP here, but the fact that Scotland is free to do things differently if it wants to – and actually does – has only really struck home with the rest of the UK because we have a nationalist government that isn’t playing supportive little brother to Conservative or Labour policies in Westminster... no doubt the reason why Scottish Labour and Tory politicians are trying to distance themselves from their UK counterparts.

Why should Emily from Surrey pay more to go to St Andrews or Edinburgh than Agnes from Pittenweem? Because Emily’s government won’t pay for her and Agnes’s will. Just as there’s an NHS in the UK, but there isn’t in the US.

If Emily and her parents want to rant about the inequality, they should rant at their own MPs.

Under European law, there’s nothing we can do about the fact that if we want our own students to benefit, we also have to extend it to others from the EU. But Westminster should have thought of that when they introduced fees, rather than assuming Holyrood would go along with whatever rules they set for England. What did they think devolution would bring, if not the capability to introduce alternative policies and priorities?

As for Swinney’s “Tesco tax” on large supermarkets selling alcohol and tobacco? Well I can see why Messrs Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrison aren’t chuffed to bits. But big business has an argument for everything.

If they aren’t making a fortune, they plead poverty and say jobs are at stake. Fair point. But if they are successful despite the recession, they argue they should be untouchable because of all the jobs they provide. Yet they don’t want their chief executives to pay a 50p tax rate or to tell the shareholders they might have a little less return. They can’t have it all ways.

They have the choice... pay up, risk raising their prices and becoming less competitive, or restrict their operations to England.

Just as Emily can choose to study there, in a fair environment where everyone’s paying as much as she is.

No street smart here

HOW heartening to see ribbons of school children on an outing in the city, walking smartly in pairs. And how alarming to see the absence of road sense in some of their teachers.

Rush hour incident one happened when I was leaving a roundabout and a teacher suddenly led 20 kids across the road in front of me bringing traffic from four directions screaming to a halt. Rush hour incident two happened when, at a set of traffic lights, another teacher decided not to wait for the green man and to ignore the green light for motorists, assuming the imperious raising of her hand would be enough to guarantee the kids’ safety.

Report: Miss has clearly not studied the highway code and has a disruptive tendency to do things her own way. Could do better. Two out of ten.