Demanding "Full Fiscal Autonomy within the Union" is Selfish, Inconsiderate and ultimately Damaging to our Social UnionTweet
If you think Scotland has a unilateral right to demand "more powers" or "full fiscal autonomy within the Union", then you don't understand what a union means. At worst you're being selfish and inconsiderate, and ultimately you'll be harming the social union, says Alistair McConnachie.
Article posted 7 September 2012.
Some people claim they do not want separation from the rest of the UK, but instead they want "full fiscal autonomy within the Union", for Scotland.
Full fiscal autonomy within the Union means that "the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government" would be "responsible for raising, collecting and administering all (or the vast majority of) revenues in Scotland and the vast majority of spending for Scotland." 1 It would pay a sum to the UK Exchequer to cover Scotland's share in UK-wide expenditure such as defence and foreign relations.
This is a halfway-house, sitting-on-the-fence, having-your-cake-and-eating-it position, held by people who don't have the courage to come down on one side or the other.
Ideologically and practically, "full fiscal autonomy within the Union" is a bad idea.
Ideologically it is a bad idea because such a demand is not consistent with the spirit of the UK Union, or indeed any union. In short, you cannot unilaterally - that is to say, on your own and regardless of the wishes of the other partners - demand more powers for yourself within a union. A union is about cooperation for the common good. Any new powers must be negotiated with your partners so that everyone can be satisfied.
Practically it is a bad idea because the flip side is that, if Scotland receives all the taxes levied in Scotland then it will receive none of those levied in the rest of the UK! This will damage Scotland, and all Home Nations, economically, and it will be harmful to the social union in our Islands - as we explain below.
Let's take the first point, and ask, "What is a union all about in the first place?"
The Nature of a Union is Joint Commitment to a Greater Collective Good
When we sign up to a union, or find ourselves in one, whether political, personal or business, we are committed to a wider concept - whether that is the wider concept of a political union like the UK or the EU - or a personal union like a marriage, or our family, or a business company.
In such unions, we are submitted to a "greater good", and it is that greater good which must be our first concern.
If we do not want it to be our first concern then we should either make it our first concern, or, if we cannot do that, then we should leave - because, if that is our attitude, then our continued existence in the union will only poison the relationship.
What we should not do is imagine that we can stay in the union, enjoying its benefits, yet still "doing our own thing" with no regard for our spouse, family members, or business partners. That would be completely against the spirit of a union.
In such relationships, everyone else must be involved and must be working together, collectively, for a common good. It is not appropriate for one party to regard itself as special and free to make all kinds of demands.
"I want, I want, I want", is not an appropriate position for a member of a union! If you fail to respect this fact, then you are not behaving in the spirit of the union, and you must either mend your ways, or leave.
For example, the UK is a member of the EU. Some people like that, others don't. One thing is clear. The UK cannot do what it wants in the EU. It cannot act against any EU judgement or law. As soon as it does so, it is acting against the spirit of the European Union, and if it persisted, it would be required to leave. Any UK action inconsistent with the EU would have to be agreed by all the other partners.
Similarly with the UK Union, "more powers" for Scotland is something that would have to be agreed by all the other members of the UK.
It is not something that Scotland could unilaterally demand and still expect to remain in the Union.
Prof Hugh McLachlan used some excellent analogies in his article in The Scotsman, some of which are excerpted below.
To say that fiscal autonomy or any other particular option would be a popular one is irrelevant. Such popularity in itself confers no legitimacy upon it. The decision, for instance, to raise the level of old-age pensions or unemployment benefits in Morningside or Drumchapel might be a very popular one there. It does not follow that the level of old-age pensions or unemployment benefits should, unilaterally, be raised there by virtue of such popularity.
The question of what powers the residents of, say, Morningside or Drumchapel will have within Scotland could not be settled by the residents of Morningside or Drumchapel.
The question of what powers Scotland will have within the UK could not be settled by the Scottish electorate.
The electorate of, say, Yorkshire, Rutland, Scotland or England could not decide for itself that Yorkshire, Rutland, Scotland or England will be, within the UK, fiscally autonomous.
When people combine into households, even if they do not have children or enter into marriages "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer", they typically lose fiscal autonomy. On the one hand, they are not free to spend all their money on themselves. On the other hand, they might have access to and the benefit of funds that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Nonetheless, such relationships can be rational and satisfying. So, too, can be political unions of various sorts.
People can sometimes unilaterally choose to leave domestic relationships. It is sometimes wise to do so. Similarly, political unions can be dissolved. For instance, constituent parts of unions can choose to secede. However, people cannot reasonably unilaterally decide that they will stay in particular domestic relationships or marriages and become within them fiscally autonomous. Such a decision is not theirs for them alone to take.
Similarly, constituent parts of a union cannot reasonably unilaterally decide that they will stay within it, but become fiscally autonomous within it. That is not their decision to make. 2
The choice before us is a simple one. It is for Scotland to stay in the UK or leave the UK.
If you want "more powers for Scotland within the UK", then that is only something that can be negotiated with our other 3 partners - perhaps as part of a new United Kingdom constitutional relationship for all 4 Home Nations.
It is not something that Scotland can unilaterally demand. That would be totally inappropriate behaviour for a member of a union. It would throw the whole of the UK into a turmoil, which would almost certainly lead towards the end of the Union.
If you really think Scotland has a unilateral right to demand "more powers" or "full fiscal autonomy within the Union", without the agreement of the other 3 partners, then you don't understand what a "union" means.
If you do understand what a union means, yet you persist with the belief that Scotland has a unilateral right to demand "more powers within the Union", then you are not respecting the other members. You are behaving in a selfish and inconsiderate manner, with an attitude that can only poison the relationship between all partners.
You really have to get off your fence and decide which side you are going to come down on.
You have to decide: Are you for Scotland in or out the UK?
Here is a good reason why you should come down on the pro-UK side.
Full Fiscal Autonomy means Scots who Live in the Rest of the UK will pay Nothing towards Scotland
It means Scotland will get no tax income from the rest of the UK. So if a Scot moves to England, Northern Ireland or Wales, then none of his or her tax payments will come back to Scotland.
One of the great advantages of the UK is that people from Scotland can go and live and work in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, without feeling that they are leaving their own country. This is an important part of our "social union".
For many Scots throughout the UK, there is no sense that they are being "unpatriotic" because they are living outside of Scotland. They are still living and working in the UK, our country. Similarly, English, Northern Irish and Welsh people who live and work in Scotland are still in their country, the UK.
One of the things which helps to cement this feeling is that, wherever we live and work in the UK, we all pay the same national taxes (with the exception of local taxes such as council tax).
Our taxes go into the big UK pot, and are distributed throughout Britain. Scotland does not lose out, tax-wise, when someone moves to another part of the UK.
We can move about the UK and still know that our taxes are going to help everyone else in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We may be a Scot living and working in London, but our money is being re-distributed throughout the length and breadth of our Islands, just as much as if we were living in Scotland.
Scotland suffers the physical loss of the person, but not his or her tax payments. The tax payments still come to Scotland. Scotland still benefits, even when Scots go to live and work in England.
However, under "full fiscal autonomy within the Union", and also under complete independence, when a Scot moved to England, Northern Ireland, or Wales then not only would Scotland lose that person, but we would also lose his or her tax payments.
As soon as we left Scotland, our taxes would no longer benefit Scotland!
It would also work the other way. An English, Northern Irish or Welsh person coming to work in Scotland would no longer see his or her tax payments going to help anyone in their Home Nation.
Full fiscal autonomy (whether in or out the Union) means that we Scots would lose the sense of social union which is presently conferred by working anywhere in the UK while knowing our taxes are still benefiting Scotland, as well as everyone else in the UK.
A sense of social solidarity with our fellow Britons would undoubtedly be lost with full fiscal autonomy.
Right now, as Jeff Randall says below, "we're all in the boat, together" and that is how it should stay - otherwise we will end up doing further damage to both our social and economic union.
But thanks to Labour's botched devolution deal, Scottish students at Scottish universities pay no top-up fees, while English students do. This is not merely insulting; it runs counter to the core principle of a union, ie, we're all in the boat, together.
Which is why I don't complain about English tax revenues being used to subsidise Scottish employment. About £11 billion a year goes north, and I'm happy to pay my share. I regard it as the membership fee for a desirable club, the security of which the Scots continue to help guarantee through their disproportionately high representation in our Armed Forces.
Anyway, the Union was never simply a financial construct. It's about shared values, not getting the bill for a family lunch and then charging each relative according to what they ate.
If we went down that route, having dumped the Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh, England itself would disintegrate, as the affluent South-East chopped off the country's less wealthy extremities.
In the end, we'd be left with a self-indulgent class of wealthy property developers and investment bankers existing in a tiny, but super-rich, state called "Londonland". 3
Fiscal Autonomy in Scotland: The case for change and options for reform, (The Scottish Government, Edinburgh 2009) at p. 29, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/261814/0078318.pdf
(3) Jeff Randall, "I'm proud to be British - but let's put the Union to the vote", The Daily Telegraph, 19-1-07, p. 26.
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