Kinross

Scotland has a major constitutional decision to make on 18th September 2014, when we are asked the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

There are some headline grabbing issues around this with both sides making their own particular points on these, probably the three main ones being Currency Union, EU membership, and whether financial institutions will remain in Scotland.

I could make comment on those issues (and might at some later date, if the mood takes me) but I'd probably just be adding to many thousands of words already written on those subjects.  Without doubt, these are important issues for Scotland but for the average man-in-the-street they're probably a bit abstracted from daily life to be directly meaningful, except maybe for what kind of currency you might find in your pocket.  To quote a work colleague of mine "If we can't keep the Pound will we get the Groat?  I'd maybe vote for independence if I could say I've got a Groat in my pocket!"  Such flippancy aside, there are probably 1001 "little things" that'll affect us in the event of a Yes vote and I thought I'd maybe pose a few questions to consider here. 

Having looked at the Q&A on the Scottish Government website I found it to horrible to navigate since you end up clicking through several "Show More" links just to find out whether your question is even addressed and an utter waste of time.  I hope whoever designed that wasn't actually paid for it.  And since I'm griping about websites, forget the independentscot.info FAQ - it only addresses a couple of dozen questions (and incidentally it breaks EU regulations by not declaring its use of cookies).  Anyway, to cut a long story a little shorter, I couldn't find answers to many of my questions and when I did find "answers" they merely made assertions like "There would be no change" without actually explaining why there was no need for change.

What we're hearing from some in the Yes campaign is that they envisage that following a Yes vote then Scotland could become independent within 18 months (or thereabouts).  That seems highly optimistic to me.  To illustrate, lets consider just two travel related topics for now - "driving" and "travelling overseas". There's a common set of issues involved here and you can probably see other cases where a similar set of issues will crop up.  By the way, because I'm a lazy typist, I'll use "RUK" when I'm referring to that part of the UK that excludes Scotland.

Driving

UK driving licences are issued by the DVLA.  So, if Scotland is not part of the UK then it stands to reason that Scotland must provide its own DVLA-like service. So here's a list of questions that spring to mind:

  • How long will it take to set up a Scottish service to manage driving licenses?
  • If longer than 18 months (or when independence occurs, whichever is later) what is the fall back plan?[1] 
    • Do we "rent" a service from RUK?  At what cost?
  • Would my UK driving license remain valid post-independence?
    • For how long?  A set period? Until expiry of the photocard? Until expiry of the license?
  • If I need to renew my photocard after a Yes vote but before independence, who would I submit the renewal application to?
  • Might I have problems trying to use a "Scottish" driving license abroad, at least in the first few years?
  • What would the policy be on the acceptance of foreign licenses in Scotland?[2]
  • Might insurers set different policies for Scottish drivers?
  • Would driving in the RUK count a "taking your car out of the country" (as would be the case in moving between bordering states in mainland Europe)?
  • Would there be any difficulty if I'm in a collision with a RUK driver who subsequently proves to be uninsured?

I'll freely admit that some of these questions amount to near trivia, but these were the questions that came up during a casual conversation during lunch one day and often it's the trivia that throws you off course.

Travelling Overseas

 As I said, you'll see a few questions here that are broadly similar to those above.  This is again because passports are currently issued by a central UK body, the HM Passport Office and which I expect would need to be replicated in an independent Scotland.

  • How long will it take to set up a Scottish Passport Office?
  • Might we have to rent services from HMPO as an interim measure?
  • Will I still be able to use my UK passport until it expires?[3]
  • I need to travel to a country that's a bit off the beaten track - How can I be sure that a "Scottish Passport" would be recognised?
  • Will a visa that was issued before independence still be valid after independence?
  • Will I still be able to get an ESTA for US travel or will I have to apply for a visa?

OK, all of this maybe seems like a bit of a ramble about a couple of specific topics but the point I'm trying to make is that we are being asked to vote on the question at the very top of the page while being largely uninformed about the consequences.  How can you vote for something when you don't know what that something is? - it's just nonsensical: "Fools rush in" as they say. The Yes campaign seems to want to rush at this and get the referendum done in a timeframe that maybe suits some political agenda and this is an issue that really needs consideration of all the pros and cons and with worked out details of how everything will work.  The much vaunted White Paper, "Scotland's Future" (15MB as a PDF) just doesn't come anywhere close to giving the public a properly worked out strategy - it's mainly a set of statements of policy and expectation, but admittedly, that's all a White Paper ever is, a statement of official policy.  It does not guarantee that it's contents will become reality, but it seems that we're somehow expected to believe every word literally.

The fact is, no matter what form of government you have, almost everyone will be able to find something about it that they don't like.  Independence could end up simply being a swap of one set of one set of grievances for a different set of grievances and you can't tell what those alternative grievances will be.

In this instant, internet age it's very important to remember that constitutional change is not like buying something from Amazon - Once you get it, if you find you don't like it you can't just send it back.

Footnotes

[1] I work for a major company that went through a transfer of ownership from one major company to another and we had a number of key shared services that we had to continue to procure from the old company beyond the transfer in order to minimise disruption and to keep the business flowing.  That covered things like HR and payroll, travel booking, etc., and I see potential similarities here.  It's taken several years to fully transition those services across and I have little reason to expect any government body to be any more efficient at this sort of thing than a major corporation.

[2] There are arrangements in place that allow certain foreign licenses to be converted to UK licenses, where the original nation's criteria are deemed to be comparable to that of the UK.  That needs to be kept under observation as standards change and loopholes can emerge that allow abuse of the facility.

[3] The White Paper states "the Scottish Government would continue to recognise any currently valid UK passports until their expiry date".  I'm more concerned whether other nations would equally liberal on that point. There's also an assumption in that document that passports would follow the EU model since Scotland would be a EU member and that is something that is clearly still debatable, but that's not a subject I want to open up here.