Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gideon's Bible

Many people will have been incensed at George Osborne's plans for an absolute freeze on working-age (and child) benefits until 2017-18. His reasoning, that their development should mirror that of wages since the beginning of the great recession, is obviously flawed, since most of them have been frozen since 1980, while, even with the current difficulties and another planned freeze for the public sector, wages are now much higher than they were then (indeed, MPs' pay, which seems not to be subject to restraint of any kind, is set to rise 11% in a single year).

Be that as it may, students of Northern Ireland politics will have gleaned something completely different from his announcement. It is now absolutely certain that Stormont will fall and that, for a period at least — and probably a long one at that — there will be direct rule from Westminster. Indeed, even had there been no plans further to reduce the welfare bill, that outcome would have been quite likely, since the DUP and Sinn Féin have failed to agree on replicating earlier welfare cuts in Northern Ireland — to which, Scots Nationalists take note — the competence is devolved. The result has been a budget squeeze and the imposition of mounting fines from Westminster.

All ill and bad, but what relevance has any of this to language? Well, apart from the fact that language, like many parts of government, is suffering from the slump (and apparently also from the recovery), renewed direct rule from Westminster raises again the question of the language Act promised under the St. Andrews Agreement.

While there may or may not have been some excuse not to legislate during devolved government, there is clearly none when it is Westminster itself that is calling the shots.

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