Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 26 June 2004

Pork-barrel politics, Scottish-style

This has been much controversy recently over a decision by the Scottish Executive (aka 'government') to regionalise a number of SE jobs around the country, to spread the jam more widely, or to ensure that areas other than the Edinburgh conurbation get some of the public money expended on these jobs injected into their local economies.

This particular controversy centres around a plan to relocate Scottish National Heritage (SNH) from Edinburgh to Inverness. The problem? Some of the job-holders don't want to move, and some jobs (or rather the job-holders) are not included in the relocation, either to be filled by locally-hired employees in the new location, or absorbed in a general re-organisation of the department. The real problem is resistance to change, of course. Unions may (and I write this only theoretically, as I have very equivocal views on the matter) exist primarily to improve the welfare of their members, but they also tend to act as a brake on innovation (and my views on that are not equivocal at all), in fact bizarrely one could almost say that unions are the true 'conservatives' of British society generally, in practical terms if not in their own self-images. It's not as if a move from Edinburgh to Inverness (or Kelso or Lochgilpead, for example) is very drastic in cultural terms, we're all pretty much the same, even if some of the regional areas don't have the same depth and breadth of social and cultural opportunities - but the addition of more sophisticated people (I speak ironically) from big cities could not but help, surely, drag these regional backwaters (as seen from a metropolitan perspective, that is) into the 'modern world'. I have two things to say:
- to the unions: GROW UP!
- to the Scottish Executive: I hope your motives are genuine and not merely paying lip-service to the idea of regional diversification whilst still ensuring that the 'real' jobs remain firmly in Edinburgh.

In a wider UK context it is striking that the relatively 'unglamorous' departments were those which were relocated from London to the regions, for example the DVLA/DVLC (driving licences, car taxes, etc) to Cardiff or the DHSS(now DSS - social security, etc) to Newcastle, but naturally the really important ministerial jobs for those departments, and all the 'hangers-on' needed to service the MInister, remained firmly in London.

Forgive me for being cynical.

Historically, of course, a ruler of a country distributed some of the 'booty' around a country, appointing local people to help him rule or putting in some of his own people to subdue the local inhabitants. Now we do things differently. It is colloquially called 'pork-barrel' politics (a term originating in the US although it has always existed here, too, in one form or another). Nothing more, nothing less. Like all such manoeuvres they are useful for political purposes; their economic worth is often much more tenuous, once the initial capital outlays have been made, unless there have been genuine attempts to plan the moves and their effects long-term.

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