Autonomy & Independence
Ian Bell has an article in the Sunday Herald (‘Hung Drawn and Independent’) where he looks at how a hung parliament might lead to Scottish independence. In can be summarised as follows, independence doesn’t have majority in Scotland but if the SNP get full fiscal autonomy in a hung parliament in return for their support it will lead to independence by the back door.
Ian arranges the Scottish electorate in the Thatcher years into four groups and in the order they appear in the article they can be defined as worried unionists, unionists, devolutionists and nationalists, where the nationalists were in the minority then and are still in the minority now.
However it’s actually easier to break the Scottish electorate into two groups, unionists and nationalists. The unionists have a devolutionary sub-group who wanted and got a subsidiary Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh but it’s not a good idea to confuse them with nationalists. The driving force behind the Scottish Parliament may have been the fear of nationalism and a desire among some unionists for more local control in Scotland but the SNP was not part of the Scottish Constitutional Convention as independence was not on the table as an alternative to devolution. Devolution in Scotland may be a consequence of the rise of nationalism but it was not a nationalist aim, it’s not based on the idea of Scotland as a nation and it’s been structured as local government dependent on central government funding which has a consequence when full fiscal autonomy is considered.
Ian Bell is right to say that independence has not yet achieved a majority within the Scottish electorate but independence is not going to come in via the backdoor as a result of, “full fiscal autonomy” as he suggests because it can only come from achieving a majority within the Scottish electorate.
“Full fiscal autonomy”, is as Ian says a bit of wooly jargon and even if you define it as, “control of all the revenues raised and spent”, it still won’t happen in Scotland. The reason that many in Scotland still confidently talk about it is because they don’t understand the difference between devolution and federalism. Devolution is a provincial solution where the central government delegates powers to a province and retains ultimate control. Federalism is where partners join together under a federal umbrella. In devolution power is delegated down, in federalism power is granted up.
The UK operates a partial system of provincial local government which co-incidentally maps onto the old national boundaries in the UK for the non-English nations. However the second stage of the project which was to create provinces in England failed to materialise. It was not a system which was put in place to recognise the multi-nation makeup of the UK but to create a second tier of provincial government through the UK. Many people make the mistake of assuming that devolution is a recognition of Scotland as a nation and a federal partner with England in the Union when all devolution does is define Scotland as a British province.
When the Calman Commission was put together in order to put together an, “independence killer”, third option for any independence ballot paper or to stop an independence referendum full stop it failed miserably to create anything beyond a dog’s breakfast where a reduced block grant and assigned tax revenues were mixed together to give a funding level which came out back at the original block grant level of the Barnett formula whatever the economy and resultant tax revenue did in Scotland. Calman was an object lesson in the limits of Scotland’s possible autonomy fiscal or otherwise within the Union under devolution.
Fiscal autonomy might work in a federal system but it won’t work where the federal idea of individual states raising taxes simply doesn’t map onto the provincial system of devolution which is based on a strong central power with centralised state functions with a second tier of local government provinces. In fact in terms of the bureaucratic upheaval, parliamentary time and the amount of work needed to graft full fiscal autonomy onto devolution it would be much easier just to give Scotland independence.
When someone talks of Scotland getting “full fiscal autonomy”, it’s the equivalent of a beauty queen saying she wants world peace. You know she’s sincere but she hasn’t a clue how to get it or even what kind of world it would need to be to have it.
This doesn’t mean that, “full fiscal autonomy”, can’t be used as a lever towards independence. It will probably run along the lines of, “We are being very reasonable and all we want is fiscal autonomy but since Westminster won’t give it the only option is to go for independence”. Ian Bell has an excellent last question but he’s wrong about full fiscal autonomy because full fiscal autonomy in Scotland is not a stepping stone to independence but will be a consequence of it.