FFA or DevoMax: The non-starter for ten


by Hazel Lewry

Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) or DevoMax is worth mentioning as it’s becoming increasingly newsworthy and is the preferred halfway house of conservative Scotland.  We even have one candidate for the Labour leadership in Scotland proposing it with the argument it will strengthen the UK, while taking the position he himself isn’t a Unionist.

I’ll meet my maker still trying to get my head around that.

FFA is the oddball third probable question in the upcoming referendum.  The question that nobody really wants to be on the referendum, but one that looks set to be there anyway.

It’ll be there as a third option because conservative Scotland needs it today, and probably still will when its polling time.  Arguably the only reason conservative Scotland needs that third option is due to obfuscation by Westminster and the Unionist media.

If the mainstream media played an honest neutral course sites like Newsnet wouldn’t need to exist, and that third option would quietly fade away with these independent sites.

With the media giving plain honest data we’d have simple easy choices and life would be uncomplicated.  Unfortunately we live in a world where the media and Westminster are mutually supporting pillars of the Union establishment. And that Union establishment needs Scotland’s resources to maintain its credit rating.

Therefore FFA will most likely be a referendum option, although it is neither the legislative status quo nor reclamation of full sovereignty.  It has the advantage that FFA is arguably much closer to independence than where we presently are, almost full sovereignty but without the declaration.

But everything about FFA declares it’s a non-starter.  It might just take conservative Scotland a little while to catch up to that idea.  By that time we might be saddled with it.

Salmond knows it’s a non-starter, but he realizes it may be a requirement of conservative Scotland.  A similar case can be made for the first eight years of Holyrood when we suffered through two ineffectual Labour Lib-Dem administrations.  It’s easily argued those first administrations in Holyrood were a result of conservative Scotland and their media friends as well.

Cameron knows FFA is a non starter, he demonstrably doesn’t want it on the ballot.

The issue with conservative Scotland and the FFA alternative is that conservative Scotland doesn’t yet understand this is the one option that it is not up to conservative Scotland alone to choose.

If it was just up to conservative Scotland FFA might well work. The problem is that Westminster has to agree to the FFA option as well, or it’s dead in the water.  For those of us old enough to remember Bamber Gascoigne and University Challenge, his catchphrase was, “Here’s your starter for ten.” Here are ten reasons FFA is a non-starter.

  • The biggest issue is the most basic, Westminster.  It sees itself as the sovereign body in the UK.  It will not permit itself to be dictated to by ‘subordinate bodies’ like the Scottish Parliament.
  • FFA would require an English Parliament to be set up beside a Westminster one.  Westminster would then become a more federal type of arrangement.


  • In a federal set up there will be huge pressure for House of Lords to disappear.  The House of Lords will fight against this.


  • Fiscal policy would have to be agreed jointly.  The English and Scots Parliaments, as well as possibly the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, would have equal input.  The Bank of England, originally set up to fund England’s wars, is most unlikely to acquiesce to sharing fiscal policy between multiple administrations.


  • Fiscally independent nations would have to agree on any mutual expenditure or encumbrance.  This would have to operate jointly through Westminster.  Westminster would therefore be required to have equal representation of Scots and English or other members or the system just doesn’t work.


  • Westminster could well decide to fight another war, legal or otherwise, yet Holyrood would effectively have a veto power on funding it.  The English or other parliament would also have this option.  It is unlikely Westminster will cede this power voluntarily.


  • Westminster would have to verify all aspects of any future policy that come within its scope and remit with Holyrood, an English parliament or other relevant body as any decisions undertaken would impact all nations equally.  It is unlikely Westminster or the Whitehall establishment will permit this.


  • Foreign aid and foreign relations would be a mutually agreed policy.  This would extend through all armed services and security services which would remain under Westminster control.  Anticipate MI5 and MI6 etc being less than enamored at the prospect of being circumvented.  They might well find themselves unemployed.


  • Immigration will create considerable issues as Scotland and England have different needs and at the present they are somewhat mutually exclusive.


  • The EU and the Euro are very likely to be required referendum issues, forced there by any one of the constituent nations.  Westminster has served notice on many occasions that these areas are reserved to Westminster and it will not give up that power easily if at all.

Food for thought on FFA, remembering that these are just some of the possible example non-starters for ten and that the list is open to expansion in so very many ways.

The deeper one burrows the greater the divergence between each potential constituent nation.  Just count the UK ministers and permanent secretaries, that number would drop to perhaps the PM, and three others with national representatives from the relevant nations.

There are three M’s that Westminster will certainly lose under any FFA type of settlement with Scotland.  Westminster will no longer have unrestricted and unfettered access to Scotland’s minerals, manpower and money.

It is feasible that a system could be made to work without an independent autonomous English parliament, but that in its most basic form would have us precisely where we are at present excluding some minor tinkering ability with our own finances.  Where would such a system leave N. Ireland and Wales?

If conservative Scotland forces through FFA expect Westminster to balk, stall, obfuscate and prevaricate.  It will not acquiesce.

Westminster really can’t baulk at a clean break, there are far too many precedents in constitutional history and Westminster is a signatory to almost all major international conventions.  Westminster can theoretically stop Wales gaining autonomy because it gained that territory through ancient right of conquest.  N. Ireland is anomaly I will not deal with here, but Scotland is a fully sovereign nation bound only by the conventions of a three century old treaty.

Ultimately it will be Scotland’s choice, but prepare for it to be a far more difficult choice than it should be due to a combination of conservative Scotland, Westminster and the Unionist media.

Ending the Union of 1707 will be like any other dissolution.  It can be quick and merciful, over and past with minimum discomfort, or it can be slow and lingering, painful and more completely disruptive than any sane individual desires or wishes for.  Westminster’s almost certain reaction to FFA will ensure the excess of pain.

The cancer in the Union, growing for over three centuries has now become systemic and will soon be fatal, there is no panacea.  Ultimately the Union is dead, all that remains is to observe how much damage the Scots are willing to permit the last spasms of a yet twitching Westminster to inflict.