The red box was held aloft in Downing Street on Wednesday morning but despite tax cuts for the North Sea the speech inside that famous briefcase contained precious few policies affecting Scotland.
Do not mistake that observation as a criticism; it is simply an observation of where the political land now lies across these isles. With each passage of fresh devolution the importance and influence of ‘UK’ events such as today shrinks ever further.
The main aspects of the Chancellor’s eighth budget simply did not relate to voters in Scotland.
Osborne’s revolution in state schools stops at the Gretna. His change in the threshold of the 40% income tax rate will soon be a matter for Holyrood to keep or alter. The Chancellor’s infrastructure projects matter not to Scotland but to Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Surrey and Hertfordshire. When income tax rates are wholly devolved to Holyrood in April 2017 so too will £2.4bn of welfare spending. Holyrood is slowly clawing away at Westminster’s influence.
The Northern Powerhouse, as the government has termed its various infrastructure measures, lies some 175 miles or so south of Scotland’s powerhouse of the Central Belt, even more from the Europe’s oil capital of Aberdeen.
Devolution has reset the political compass in Britain. Scots will increasingly look to the finance secretary in Edinburgh and not to the Chancellor in London to find it how government spending and taxation decisions affect them.
Indeed many more English people will begin to look to their city and town halls and not to Westminster. This budget has ensured that Mancunians will now oversee aspects of Manchester’s criminal justice system and the Greater London Assembly will retain the capital’s business rates.
Westminster’s far-reaching tentacles are being cut back.
Throughout the referendum Nicola Sturgeon talked of an independent Scotland acting as a ‘progressive beacon’ to those in the rest of the United Kingdom with its policy choices. In effect a form of solidarity through separatism.
This ability to act as a beacon of change is now open to Sturgeon and her government in a whole host of areas. With full control over income taxation coupled with Scotland’s forthcoming autonomous welfare system this First Minister, and future holders of the office, will have in their arsenal an enormous range of powers. There is now a form of independence within the United Kingdom. Today while the Budget is taking place in Westminster, Holyrood has debated land reform. These reforms could change the lives of some communities in Scotland in a way in which this Budget simply cannot match.
Holyrood both in its pre- and post-Smith Commission powers is touching every echelon of Scottish society. Westminster’s influence is retreating.
The political ground in Britain has moved and soon the ownership of Scottish land could move with it too. These changes affect Scots whereas the Chancellor’s headline Budget Day policies do not.
However, the reverse of the Nationalists’ beacon theory is also true.
There may be cases in which England does things differently, and better, which may inspire similar change in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Within four months of being installed as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in a London state school praising that city’s initiatives to drive up attainment and close the gap between richest and poorer students. If schools in London’s deprived boroughs can deliver improved educational attainment then so too can Holyrood.
The onus is now on the Scottish Government to use the powers of taxation to fund a similar revolution in Scotland’s schools. The ball will be in their court and no one else’s.
Devolution promised to find Scottish solutions for Scottish issues. Now, as highlighted through this Budget, England is finding English solutions for English issues. Today is a signpost in the change of the relationships between Westminster and Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
Budgets are not just about facts and figures. They are about politics too – remember Osborne is a politician by trade and not an economist. This budget will go down as a hallmark of the change in politics in Scotland. The Chancellor delivered a Budget steeped in devolved, and soon to be devolved, matters.
We saw on Budget Day 2016 the full impact of the erosion of the United Kingdom as a unitary state. George Osborne is now not truly UK Chancellor but in effect England’s finance secretary also.
But this, we must remember, is what a majority of what we in Scotland wanted: A strong Scottish Parliament within a strong United Kingdom. The dust of the referendum battle is finally beginning to settle and the picture is now becoming clear. A vote for the status quo has delivered transformational constitutional change.
Commentary by Aidan Kerr, STV’S Digital Politics Reporter. You can contact him firstname.lastname@example.org