The Coalition government has released a document examining how a vote for independence in Scotland would affect the benefits system in Scotland, entitled Scotland analysis: work and pensions. Despite the length (nearly 90 pages, plus appendices) the report does not have very much to say; its purpose seems to have been taken to be as a panegyric to the government’s marvellous policies rather than a serious consideration of the allocation of costs and responsibilities. The strongest appeal that can be made for the Union is that it offers security and solidarity in an uncertain world. Those are precisely the issues most at threat from the government’s assault on social protection and the welfare state.
What I think I can extract from the paper is that Scotland currently has proportionately more DWP officials than England does; that if the system was to continue in its present form, responsibilities would have to be reallocated both North and South of the border; and that some of the Scottish Government’s commitments would be more expensive than carrying through the proposed cuts. I think we could have worked out that last bit for ourselves. Scotland has an ageing population and pensions will become more expensive; also true but inconclusive (it’s one reason why Scotland needs more immigration to balance the population).
To my mind, it’s the minor wrinkles that are more interesting. The documents points out in passing that Fraud Investigation is centred on Glasgow (England will need to move that), that 19,000 Child Maintenance cases are cross-border (now there’s a system worth scrapping) and that there will have to be complex agreements to cover pensions abroad.
The central point made in the paper seems to be that
The unpicking of a complex and integrated infrastructure to pay benefits and pensions would incur costs to develop and set up new systems, while running costs could increase given the loss of economies of scale.
That’s fair enough, but it doesn’t come over as much of an obstacle.