Tuesday, 16 September 2014 16:27

Indy or Bust: Scottish Referendum ramifications for rUK

The Scottish Question is about to be answered, and whether the majority vote Yes or No, changes are on the horizon for the Scottish economy and for those of us labelled rUK, short for either the 'rest of the UK' or more disparagingly, the 'remnant UK'.

We're not arguing in favour of either viewpoint - that's for the Scottish public to decide - but it's important that English businesses should be aware of the ramifications that may arise from a vote either way.

Obviously a Yes vote would represent the more significant shake-up of how affairs north of the border are governed, but even with a No vote, it seems increasingly like substantial extra control would be handed to the Scottish Government as a kind of consolation prize.

A good even-handed look at some of the implications for businesses has been compiled by the Centre for Retail Research, who also avoid taking a partisan approach, and also skirt around the political issues to focus solely on the significance of the vote for the retail sector.

Shutting up Shop

The big question is, just how much of a divide would a Yes vote put in place between Scottish and rUK businesses?

Many rUK firms seem to think it's an issue for the Scots to decide amongst themselves, but while you may not be allowed to vote Yes or No, you can rest assured you will be affected one way or another by the result, and you should be aware of the risks - from more difficult trading conditions, to increased energy bills - this referendum may pose to your company.

Already some Scottish-based businesses - notably including major financial services providers - have warned that they may have to relocate their head offices south of the border to keep running without significant disruption to their operations.

With Scotland already having been told it cannot remain in a 'sterling zone', there are currency implications too, which could mean having to pay foreign exchange fees in future for trading with Scottish firms in their new local currency, whatever it may be.

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Diverging Duties

Next there are questions of taxation, and of the legal system as a whole; what happens when Scottish VAT differs from that in the rUK?

The Centre for Retail Research suggests that Scottish VAT could drop soon after a Yes vote for independence, as the Scottish Government may want to give a kind of "independence dividend" by artificially lowering prices.

rUK companies caught off-guard could find this hard to incorporate into their day-to-day accounting, particularly for those that have only ever conducted business within the borders of the UK, who would now find themselves 'exporting' to Scotland.

Even freelancers could find their accounting processes disrupted, as it's unlikely HMRC will continue to collect self-assessed income tax through the Cumbernauld office once a true international border goes up between Scotland and the rUK.

Local Laws

What does all this mean for credit control? Probably more than you might expect - particularly if you plan to continue dealing with Scottish companies.

For example, it is likely that a Scottish Companies House would need to be established following a Yes vote, making it harder to background check a new business customer than is currently the case.

Debt recovery action could also become more difficult, with separate legal systems which, as time goes on, will be likely to diverge further.

And then there's the currency question again - whether Scotland retains its own version of the pound, joins the eurozone, or opts for a different currency entirely could determine how directly rUK late payment legislation maps on to Scottish law in terms of penalties, fees and interest.

Even a No vote will raise many of the same questions, as there is clear support for Scottish independence, and much of the transfer of power seems likely to take place either way - complete with the inevitable economic impacts this might bring.

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