Full fiscal autonomy (FFA) – or as SNP would now have it, full fiscal responsibility (FFR) is now the Westminster unionist politician’s favourite topic with which to bait SNP MPs. In this, they are ably assisted by the media, with The Daily Politics’ Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn acting as straight man/woman to the likes of a sneering, sniggering Michael Forsyth, as in this clip.
It never seems to have entered their heads to have a look at what it means, or more specifically, what it meant in the context of the independence referendum and what it means now in the context of a NO win on September 18th 2014, the Smith Commission proposals and the SNP’s astonishing electoral triumph in the general election on May 7th 2015.
But why do the hard thinking and the hard work when it’s more fun to assist Westminster unionists - especially failed Scottish politicians who are now unelected Lords - to giggle and gurn, shouting “Cowardy custard! You wanted it in 2011 through to 2014 – you wanted it after The Vow. Had you won the Referendum, you claimed you would have been fully independent on March 24th 2016. Why don’t you want it now, immediately! When do you want it? Tell us, tell us …”
Let me do the work for them – unpaid and unsung as always – offering a service to democracy and to rich media pundits, sundry Lords and politicians, a gift from a simple old Scottish voter, a humble Glesca slum boy – pause to brush away a sentimental tear … (VOICE OFF: “Oh, **** off, Peter!”)
FULL FISCAL AUTONOMY
Independence confers full fiscal autonomy automatically – well, it would, wouldn’t it? But what is it?
Had we (the YES component of Scotland’s electorate) won the referendum, it would have come with everything else that full independence brings – full autonomy on every aspect of the governance of Scotland, with all the benefits and risks that independence brings.
The nub of the present argument and the childish Bullingdon Boys farce being enacted in a forum near you hinges on a key question – asked superficially but without any wish to receive a detailed answer. The question is -
What is the difference between full fiscal autonomy as it would have resulted from a YES vote in September 2014 and full fiscal autonomy in the June 2015 context of a historical NO vote and and SNP landslide on May 7th 2015?
What is it? It’s setting and raising our own taxes – all of them – and spending the money thus raised as we see fit.
In the context of the independence referendum - and the context of the Scottish, UK, European and global economy circa Sept 2014 - had we won a YES vote, negotiations – wide-ranging, complex negotiations on every aspect of Scotland independence, including fiscal autonomy would have commenced, with both rUk and Scottish negotiating teams, backed by experts and advisors from the civil service and academia, bargaining on a huge range on inter-locking and inter-dependent issues, defining the nature of the post-independence relationship between Scotland and rUK and, after a heads of agreement was reached in April/May 2016, then devising complex plans to implement that negotiated agreement.
By definition, those plans and their implementation processes (although realistically the Treasury and the Civil Service would have to some degree prepared the ground in parallel with the negotiations) could not have properly started until final agreement was reached in the spring of 2016. The full implementation of the plans would continue for possibly years after Independence Day 24th March 2016.
Of course, bang in the middle of those negotiations, we would have had the general election campaign of April/May 2015, with Parliament prorogued, no government, and major, unpredictable – and a badly predicted(!) outcome.
But we would have dealt with it. After all, countries declare UDI, gain independence by bloody or velvet revolutions or other means, still manage to survive - so we’d have been OK, even with the oil price collapse. We’d have had a currency union or we wouldn’t, and then have had our own currency under one of the Fiscal Commission viable alternative options – plans B,C,D and E of blessed memory – which may well still be relevant after 2016!
What’s different now, in June 2015? Well, even to a boneheaded or disingenuous unionist anxious to make a superficial point, there are three key differences -
1. We lost the Referendum, and FFA would not be implemented in the context of Scotland being an independent nation.
2. It’s not 2011 or even 2014 – the economic situation and the global economy has changed – crude oil price have nosedived, a EU Referendum looms, with Brexit as possibility.
3. The general election result was predicted by no one, and Scotland is a dramatically different place politically than in September 2014.
In other words, Scotland, the UK, Europe and the world have changed, and only fools hang on to plans that events have made out-dated. So what does FFA mean in the June 2015 context?
FFA post-June 2015 – implementation and timeframe
Instead of getting the block grant (the proportion of our taxes UK deigns to return to us) from the UK Exchequer as at present, the Scottish Parliament would receive all taxation levied in Scotland and be responsible for most of its spending in accordance with its own priorities.
Scotland would pay to the UK government Scotland's share of the cost of providing defined UK-wide services, including defence spending and conduct of foreign affairs. In other words, it would be Scottish fiscal autonomy, but not full political independence. It would still be controlled by rUK in significant areas.
That would involve a negotiating agenda with significantly different priorities from the same negotiations as part of an independence mandate, as would have been the case in a different outcome to September 18th 2014 – and those negotiations would have had radically different dynamics even if the economic situation, the global economy and the price of crude oil had remained the same or risen.
So even if the new Tory government, with their shaky majority and divided party and confusion over Brexit, human rights and immigration policy, were to offer full fiscal autonomy tomorrow, there would have to be a lengthy period of negotiation about the exact nature of its terms and implementation.
Of course they have no intention of doing any such thing, and while it’s tempting to call their bluff and say “We’ll have it, right now, thank you ..”, that would be a nonsensical response, and just about as infantile as the wee Laird o’ Drumlean’s schoolboy posturing on Daily Politics today.
So away and birl in yer kilt, Michael Forsyth, and if ye birl fast enough, yer wee heid might wind up in that portion of yer anatomy where it’s best fitted tae be, oot o’ mischief’s way …