Full fiscal autonomy for Scotland

Full fiscal autonomy (FFA) – also known as devolution max,[1] devo-max,[2] or fiscal federalism[3] – is a particular form of far-reaching devolution proposed for Scotland. The term has come to describe a constitutional arrangement in which instead of receiving a block grant from the UK Exchequer as at present, the Scottish Parliament would receive all taxation levied in Scotland; it would be responsible for most spending in Scotland but make payments to the UK government to cover Scotland's share of the cost of providing certain UK-wide services, including at least defence and the conduct of foreign relations. Scottish fiscal autonomy – stopping short of full political independence – is usually promoted by advocates of a federal constitution for the United Kingdom.

It was once proposed that a greater percentage of those who support further moves towards Scottish independence support a move to greater fiscal autonomy while a greater percentage of those who wish to retain the Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK would be opposed. However, as the debate unfolds a move towards FFA could be considered as a compromise by advocates of both sides.


As early as July 2001, former Conservative Party chancellor Kenneth Clarke said he believed that it would be "disastrous for the Scottish economy".[4] On the other hand, Robert Crawford, the former head of Scottish Enterprise, said in February 2004 that the Scottish economy "could be improved" by fiscal autonomy.[5]

David Cameron, then leader of the Conservative Party, stated in 2005 that he would not stand in the way of handing full taxation powers to the Scottish Parliament if the idea was supported by the Scottish Conservative Party.[6]

The 2011 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey core finding was that while 32% of respondents supported Scottish independence,[7] 43% supported greater autonomy within the UK. 29% of respondents supported devo-max, but only 21% supported the status quo.[8]The election of a majority Scottish National Party government in May 2011, committed to holding an independence referendum, also brought the possibility that FFA could be an extra option in the vote.[9] Some senior Scottish Labour Party figures have also suggested that they would support devo max, including Malcolm Chisholm MSP,[10] Mark Lazarowicz MP,[11] and former First Minister Henry McLeish.[1]

The "devo-max" option was not included in the 2014 independence referendum, however, as the Edinburgh Agreement stipulated that the referendum had to be a clear binary choice between independence or the existing devolution arrangements.[12]

Public opinion

A public opinion poll carried out at the end of October 2011 for the BBC Politics Show indicated that devo-max was the most popular option with Scottish voters: 33% backed devo-max, 28% supported independence and 29% backed no further constitutional change.[13] A public opinion poll carried out in March 2013 for the SNP indicated that 52% of respondents believed the Scottish Government should be responsible for all tax and spending decisions in Scotland. Also, 53% of respondents believed that the Scottish government would be best suited to decide welfare and pensions policy for Scotland.[14]


The economic effects of full fiscal autonomy have been the subject of debate. The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report in March 2015 that calculated that for the year 2015–16 there would be a gap of £7.6 billion in Scotland's budget under FFA, in comparison with the current system for distributing spending.[15]

This analysis has been criticised by the SNP's deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, on the basis that it represents figures for only one year and that it overlooks the extra growth the SNP says it can generate with more powers.[16]

The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded to some of these criticisms in a later report. It argued:

"Delaying a move to full responsibility for a few years would not on its own deal with the fiscal gap.... Indeed, if anything, given current spending and revenue forecasts, the gap would likely grow rather than shrink over the next few years. It would remain the case that full fiscal responsibility would likely entail substantial spending cuts or tax rises in Scotland. While a big and sustained rebound in oil revenues or significantly higher growth in Scotland could mitigate this, there can be no presumption that either would occur.

"There are a number of aspects of fiscal autonomy which are unclear; the level of payments to the UK government (for debt interest and Trident renewal), the ability of the oil sector to redeploy into other areas filling the productivity gap, and whether economic growth in Scotland is better supported by an Edinburgh or London government".[17]

See also


  1. McLeish reiterates support for devo-max Archived 19 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine www.holyrood.com, accessed 23 October 2011
  2. "Embrace devo-max, Labour told". The Scotsman. 26 October 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  3. MacDonald, Ronald; Hallwood, Paul (July 2004). "The Economic Case for Fiscal Federalism in Scotland". Working papers. Stamford: University of Connecticut, Department of Economics. p. 95. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  4. Clarke warns on Scots freedom
  5. Crawford backs fiscal autonomy
  6. "Cameron says Scotland can have fiscal autonomy if Tories want it". The Scotsman. Johnston Publishing. 21 December 2005. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  7. Dinwoodie, Robbie (5 December 2011). "Independence support climbs to six-year high". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  8. Carrell, Severin (5 December 2011). "Scots back independence – but at a price, survey finds". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  9. Scotland independence vote could contain 'financial autonomy' option www.guardian.co.uk, 8 May 2011
  10. Malcolm Chisholm: Labour must support Devo-Max and abandon Calman Archived 21 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine newsnetscotland.com, accessed 23 October 2011
  11. Salmond gives backing to ‘devo max’ ballot choice www.scotsman.com, 23 October 2011
  12. Black, Andrew (15 October 2012). "Scottish independence: Cameron and Salmond strike referendum deal". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  13. "BBC survey indicates support for Scottish 'devo-max'". BBC News. 6 November 2011. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  14. "Poll: Majority want all decisions made in Scotland". 23 March 2013. Archived from the original on 25 March 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  15. "Scotland's fiscal position: an update in light of the OBR's March Forecasts". IFS. 19 March 2015. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  16. "IFS report on SNP fiscal plans slated by party's deputy leader Stewart Hosie". The National. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  17. "Full fiscal autonomy delayed? The SNP's plans for further devolution to Scotland". IFS. 21 April 2015. Retrieved 9 May 2015.