The UK will never be the same again, whatever the outcome
Monday, September 15, 2014
This Thursday, some 4m Scottish residents will head to the polling booths to answer a simple yes or no question: Should Scotland be an independent country?
Their answer – whatever it may be – will determine the future of not just their own nation, but also the rest of the UK. It is hard to imagine a more important vote taking place in our lifetime.
Yes Scotland’s battle for the hearts of the electorate versus Better Together’s plea to their minds has for a long time been a one-horse race. The uncertainties surrounding an independent Scotland – from what currency it would use to just how much petro-wealth remains untapped beneath the North Sea – have made a Yes vote a risky proposition – a leap into the unknown.
However, in recent weeks the momentum has swung firmly in Alex Salmond’s favour, sparking the panic in Westminster that saw the leaders of all three major political parties abandon Prime Minister’s Questions and head north of the border to urge voters not to turn their backs on the most successful union the world has ever seen.
For Scottish printers, the picture of what an independent Scotland would mean for their businesses is as clear as mud. That is to say, the SNP white paper on independence promises much but very little is concrete. Statements like: an independent Scotland would “prioritise job creation” and “support manufacturing” are, in political terms, meaningless.
Even more assured statements such as the promise to cut corporation tax by 3% must be taken with a pinch of salt as history is littered with examples of political promises that were abandoned post-polling day, or reversed a few years later as fiscal realities set in.
At the far end of the reality scale, the Yes campaign’s repeated assertion that UK politicians will somehow ‘come around’ to a currency union similar to the discredited euro area and that the Bank of England (in other words the rest of the UK tax payers) will continue to be lender of last resort to Scotland’s financial institutions is not so much a fairytale as a complete fallacy.
This lack of a coherent currency plan in particular should – and for a long time did – seriously undermine the case for independence as it will deny the SNP some of the key fiscal levers that it needs to boost growth while at the same time controlling risks like inflation.
However, the narrowing gap between the two campaigns suggests a growing portion of the population are buying into Salmond’s promise that Scotland can both have its Dundee cake and eat it. In this sense it seems likely that the inclusion of 16- and 17-year-olds in the vote has worked as Salmond would have hoped, as the SNP’s idealistic and emotive pitch is more likely to appeal to the youth than Better Together’s staid and practical argument.
For business owners on the other hand, the risks inherent in separation together with the lack of detail on how the SNP’s various promises will be paid for, has set the alarm bells ringing. “I have no confidence in the timescale to sort out the currency issue, no idea what the effect on interest rates will be after independence and do not trust the amount of freebies that the SNP claim to be able to afford,” summarised one Scottish print director.
In business, uncertainty is never a good thing. Witness the impact on the pound and on Scottish PLCs’ share prices at just the first whiff that the Yes campaign might actually succeed. For Scottish printers, their future prosperity in the event of a Yes vote will depend largely on the ability of the newly empowered Scottish government to stimulate growth across all sectors. Is this possible? Absolutely. Is it guaranteed? Far from it.
Whatever, the outcome on Thursday, Scotland – either by virtue of independence or greater devolution – will never be the same again. The same is true of the UK, whether it becomes a broken union or simply a weakened one – subject to demands for greater devolution of powers from everyone from Wales and Northern Ireland to London and Cornwall. The one undeniable positive to have come out of the independence debate is the level to which it has reengaged the public with politics – that and the large volume of print it has generated!
Opinion: Job applicants are wary of taking positions in Scotland
George Thompson, joint managing director, Harrison Scott Associates
In a PrintWeek article on career relocation in January 2012, I reported that 23% more candidates were willing to move to another part of the country to gain employment than five years previously. This figure is still on the up; however, the number of applicants willing to relocate to Scotland has virtually dried up.
We ask applicants who would consider relocating to rank in order of preference: Scotland, the North, the Midlands, the South, Wales and Northern Ireland. Five years ago, and for many years prior, Scotland was the top preference; in the last six months, it has fallen to last.
There appears to me to have been little attention paid by the Yes campaign to what other people in the UK think about independence. If virtually every candidate my consultants and I talk to believes that an independent Scotland is not as attractive an option as the rest of the UK, we should take note.
A Welsh candidate I spoke to the other day said: “The Scots don’t realise how lucky they are: free prescriptions, no university tuitions fees and incidentals like no toll charges on bridges.” His other point was that if an independent Scotland doesn’t bring in the revenues from oil, Alex Salmond is predicting, income tax will go up for everyone to pay for these ‘free’ services.
There is another, more worrying, issue in the fact that we have had a fair number of Scots putting measures in place for us to seek opportunities for them in other parts of the country in the event of a Yes vote. Most of them take the view that ‘free this and free that’ is only free when you don’t pay any taxes. However, to people like them, the more ‘free’ things there are, the higher the tax bill.
George Thompson is joint MD of Harrison Scott Associates, a national recruitment company. He is a Scot and is eligible to vote in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum.
Reader reaction: Will you be voting for an independent Scotland?
Ian Robertson, director, JJR Print
“I’ve always taken the view that the printing industry is a barometer for all industries, because we work with every other sector, from publishing to engineering. In order for the Scottish printing industry to succeed, the rest of the Scottish economy needs to succeed and I genuinely believe that a Scottish government will be better equipped than Westminster to ensure that. The trouble with devolution is that it doesn’t give you the full array of economic and fiscal levers, so there’s a limited amount a devolved government can do.”
Alan Calder, print management consultant
“The world and the industry have changed beyond recognition since 1979, when Edinburgh especially was a printing and publishing hub within a vibrant market with a readily available pool of expert staff and opportunity, but has the industry in Scotland suffered disproportionately? For the first time in living memory we have the opportunity to build a local industry to suit a 5m population’s need. I prefer to believe that the future can be great rather than that this is as good as it gets. Good luck to all whatever the result.”
Angela Liddell, RPL Group
“Scotland has all the fundamentals to be a wealthy society and I believe independence is well overdue. I left school at 16 and went into print and given the state of the UK and the print industry I am very lucky to still be doing a job I love 30-odd years later. Kids stood a chance back then with apprenticeships, now it is up to parents to give them the best chance. I am schooling my daughter privately to give her the opportunities that all children deserve. With an independent Scotland I am confident they will get those opportunities. Let Scotland flourish.”
Graeme Wilson, print education and training consultant
“As someone who spends around 40% of his life working on EU-funded overseas projects how would it affect fellow Scots like me if Scotland were not part of the EU? I am questioned many times by fellow colleagues from Europe as to why Scotland would want independence, especially at a time when other nations are joining together. It is a question I cannot answer. The regard the UK is held in by other European countries is very high. They value our input and expertise. Will Scotland get the same opportunity to participate? I doubt it.”
Ken Massie, managing director, Compass Print Holdings
“There has clearly not been a business case to break up what is recognised as the most successful union ever. It is difficult to understand why anyone would want to take the risk of an independent Scotland without knowing the currency and taking into account the impact of higher interest rates. The union has always stood for tolerance and democracy and not narrow nationalism. Finally, as we have the fastest growing economy in the West with the lowest unemployment: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”
Ken Mitchell, director, Claro Print
“Why would we wish to leave a union (the UK) with a track record of devolving power to the regions while seeking to join a union (the EU) with a track record of centralising power and decision making? A currency union with the UK (if that were to happen) would leave an independent Scotland subject to interest rate decisions made by the Bank of England and a country that does not have full control over its economy is not truly independent.”