The SNP have gone awfully quiet about Full Fiscal Autonomy of late, or so goes the refrain of the opposition parties in Scotland. The insinuation being that FFA is actually something of a poisoned chalice. We are to believe that after years of arguing for the devolution of all financial responsibilities to Scotland, the SNP are now secretly terrified that it might just happen. Kezia Dugdale has, along with a number of her Scottish Labour colleagues, coined the term “Austerity Max”, and whilst it’s not caught on just yet, give them time. With a sympathetic media, and a year to go till the 2016 Holyrood Elections, I’d expect to hear that phrase a lot more.
The whole point of Labour’s “Austerity Max” label of course, is to imply that were Scotland in full control of its own finances, the Scottish Government would be so short on cash that it would be forced to make massive cuts to public services; the sort of cuts that would make David Cameron look like a latter day Che Guevara. Because, as we all know, Scotland would be an economic basket case without the bosom of the UK Exchequer. Sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s the go-to argument against any sort of autonomy for Scotland, fiscal or otherwise.
As I’ve argued previously, Full Fiscal Autonomy is the anti-independence parties’ re-branding of Devo-Max; a proposal so popular that it had to be renamed and demonised to avoid any risk of having to implement it. Amidst this continued effort to sideline Full Fiscal Autonomy/Devo-Max, those who’ve argued against it seem to have got caught up in their own hype. The opposition parties in Scotland now genuinely seem to believe that Holyrood are secretly terrified that FFA might be foisted on them as some sort of ingenious “double bluff” from the Tory Government.
The SNP are playing this game rather well though. Quite simply, they don’t, and never will have the numbers in the House of Commons to force any further devolution of powers through to the Scottish Parliament. But the Scottish National Party have form when it comes to being in the minority (especially in Westminster).
There are two possible scenarios that are playing out here, and who knows? Perhaps the SNP do secretly oppose the devolution of more economic powers to Holyrood, but what’s more likely is that they are playing David Cameron like a fiddle, with the unwitting help of the Scottish Labour Party. If the ultimate “double bluff”, the ultimate threat, is the delivery of Full Fiscal Autonomy/Devo-Max, the canny thing for the SNP to do would be to play along with this (quite frankly ridiculous) charade, until it pays off. A “triple bluff” if you will.
If the SNP block achieved nothing else in Westminster over the next 5 years but Full Fiscal Autonomy, it would still (arguably) be one of the most tactically impressive coup d’états in Scottish Politics. Given the fact that the overwhelming majority of Scots support Devo-Max, it would also be incredibly popular. Time will tell on this, but it all relies on the anti-independence parties continuing to believe their own hype.