We are very close now to the time of the chancellor’s spending review, when we will all learn just how painful the public spending cuts are to be. It is tempting to wonder whether all the negative rhetoric is at least partly the deployment of the oldest political trick in the book, managing expectations. Then one remembers that it is the Tories who are in power, Tories who almost to a man (and they are nearly all men) suffer from the ideological delusion that a smaller state is desirable. Of course it is not only size that matters.
Those who may have had confidence in the coalition to repair Britain’s abject public finances while remaining, in the Prime Minister’s words, “fair”, must surely have been troubled by this week’s spectacle of the announcement on child benefit. It sounds like a very Tory kind of fairness to strip this universal benefit from a family taking in £44,000 while continuing to award it to one receiving more than £80,000, albeit that this is at the extreme end of the spectrum. We must hope that the rest of the spending review has been more carefully thought out.
In Scotland, where the state plays a greater role in the economy and society than elsewhere in Britain, and in Shetland, where the state’s role is even more pronounced, in the absence of special dispensations we are likely to suffer disproportionately from the cuts.
Clearly there is a balance to be struck between paying off the colossal debt and saddling future generations with it. Yet the cost of the proposed course of action – a brutally truncated public sector, years of strife and possible industrial and social unrest – does not so far seem to feature in the algebra. It will be very interesting to hear Alistair Carmichael defend his government’s proposals.