SCOTLAND is still reeling from the Conservatives' blatant assault on democracy and the devolution settlement with Alister Jack's unprecedented use of a Section 35 order to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from receiving Royal Assent.

Meanwhile, as that alarming development threatens the integrity of the Scottish Parliament, the Conservatives are quietly getting on with subverting democracy and standards of governance in other ways. Today, a major tranche of funding in the British Government's “Levelling Up” programme was announced. 

During his failed bid for the Conservative leadership in the summer of last year, in which he lost out to Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak was videoed at a meeting of Conservative Party members in Tunbridge Wells, in one of the most affluent areas of southern England, boasting how as chancellor he had acted to block government funding being spent in deprived inner city districts, which tend to vote Labour, so that it could be spent in places like Tunbridge Wells instead. 

There are suspicions that this is precisely what has been happening with the £2.1 billion of public money which is being spent in this round of Conservative Levelling Up … or more accurately, Tory pork barrelling. Today, Sunak will be mostly pretending that he didn't brag about taking public money away from poor Labour-voting communities in order to give it to wealthy Tory voting areas.

The Levelling Up money announced today is being distributed to 111 communities across the UK. In England, 52 Conservative Tory constituencies receive funding for projects – more than twice as many as those represented by Labour MPs.

There have been 80 successful bids for Levelling Up funding in England, of which only half are among the 100 most deprived areas of the country. However, wealthy areas like Rutland, North Somerset, Malvern Hills, Worcestershire and Sunak's own North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond – one of the most affluent areas in the county – are all among the recipients of government funding which is ostensibly supposed to assist public services and amenities in the most deprived areas of the UK catch up with those available in wealthier and better-resourced towns and districts.

The announcement has not gone down well with Conservative MPs, especially those in the so-called “Red Wall” seats which the Conservatives won from Labour in 2019 and who are now nervously eyeing dire polling figures which point to a dreadful result for the Conservatives at the next General Election. 

Speaking to The Times newspaper, one Tory MP said: "People are apoplectic. There are some really wealthy areas on the list. It looks awful. It's gone down terribly among red wall MPs."

Another said: "It feels we've given up on the red wall. It seems bizarre that Richmondshire is getting Levelling Up funding." 

Richmond in Yorkshire, not to be confused with the equally affluent Richmond on Thames, was recently described by a Conservative MP as “the posh bit of Yorkshire” and characterised as “the Surrey of the North”. The anonymous MP, who was quoted in The Yorkshire Post, claimed that “there is almost no deprivation” in the solidly Conservative constituency which was previously represented in the Commons by former Tory leader William Hague.

Despite this, or more likely because of this, the constituency has been awarded £19m for the regeneration of the High Street in the military garrison town of Catterick. However, the bid to regenerate the centre of Easterhouse – one of the most deprived communities in the UK – has been rejected. 

At best, the UK Government's Levelling Up fund was just a sticking plaster on the gaping wound left by the loss of EU funding for deprived areas. At worst, the Conservatives are using it as a means of deploying public funding in order to buy votes for themselves.

In Scotland, just £177m of Levelling Up funding is being distributed. This money will be spent on devolved issues with no input from the Scottish Parliament. Under the EU's 2014-2020 budget, Scotland was allocated up to €944m (£827.6m) in structural funding. These funds were controlled by the Scottish Parliament.

The Conservatives are forcing communities to compete against one another for a smaller pot of funding which is disproportionately awarded in areas where the Conservatives seek to bolster their vote and as a means to bypass and undermine the devolution settlement. 

The Levelling Up fund is not a tool for tackling inequality in the UK – it's a party-political tool for the Conservative Party.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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