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Monday, 5 December 2016

Peter Webster – Breaking up is hard to do.

Peter Webster - Chief Executive of Corps Security

Peter Webster - Chief Executive of Corps Security

The issues surrounding whether Scotland should leave the UK are never far from the news headlines at the moment and will continue to be so until the referendum takes place on 18th September. On that date the question – Should Scotland be an independent country? – will finally be answered.

As I write this the yes vote stands at 34 per cent, a fall of five percentage points since the last opinion poll a month ago. There’s plenty of time left though and it is estimated that around 20 per cent of voters are still undecided on the issue. Chances are they are the ones who are struggling not to let their hearts rule their heads.

There is certainly no room for complacency on this subject and as a company with significant business interests and operations north of the border, we are having to prepare for the possibility that if the yes vote wins out, the nature of how we operate will change immeasurably. For instance, we have extensive manned guarding operations in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, our Operations Support Centre is also based in Glasgow, as is the Corps Monitoring Centre (CMC).

The Corps Security senior management team has already spent some considerable time talking various scenarios through and given the lack of detail from the Scottish National Party (SNP) about exactly what would happen should it win the vote, this hasn’t been easy. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that for companies like us who are trying to be proactive and consider all possible eventualities, being able to make hard and fast plans is proving nigh on impossible.

Take, for example, the issue of currency. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, in a rare show of unity, have all stated that should Scotland leave the UK it will not be able to use the pound. The SNP considers this a bluff and has refused to even consider a Plan B, let alone state what it would involve. Some might call this a principled stance, although I find it difficult to believe that the SNP would know what to do if the government sticks to its guns. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the party’s leader, Alex Salmond, might be right, and there would be a deal for currency union. However, I wouldn’t bet my last pound on it!

While the money issue wouldn’t prove an insurmountable problem for us, I think small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) will find this a difficult issue. My own anecdotal evidence from within the business community suggests that most commercial organisations in the entire UK view Scottish devolution in a negative light. This is borne out by research carried out by the business network, “Ingenious Britain”, which has discovered that almost half of small business owners in Scotland think independence would be bad for their company.

If, however, the yes campaign does succeed, there’s the problem of what to do with all the public sector contracts in Scotland that were previously procured and awarded from Whitehall and other government offices in England. Would they all be retendered via the Scottish parliament’s equivalent departments? If so, imagine the hoops that some suppliers would have to jump through!

Another potentially more difficult issue would be if an independent Scotland decided to join the Schengen Area, which comprises 26 European countries that have abolished passport or any other type of border control in between their common borders. It could mean that border controls would need to be set up – Hadrian’s Wall could even be reinstated! Although Scotland stands to lose more from this action than the rest of UK would, stranger things have happened.

It’s not just the business world that is concerned about Scottish independence. Professors from all five of Scotland’s medical schools have written an open letter expressing serious concerns about the impact upon medical research funding. Education would also be affected, with the SNP proposing to make students from the rest of the UK pay tuition fees if studying in Scotland, while allowing free access for students from the rest of the European Union (EU).

Drilling down into the security sector, it would open up an array of practical problems. Take Security Industry Authority (SIA) licencing, for example. Would it operate in the same way? Would those working in both Scotland and the rest of the UK need two licences. Would the background checking and verification processes be the same? How would it affect insurance policies and premiums? This list of questions just gets bigger the more you think about it.

From a pragmatic point of view the implications of Scottish devolution are immense and while I understand the emotional reasons for wanting independence, from the perspectives of businesses on both sides of the border it makes little sense. Until 19th September, when the votes are in and we all know one way or the other what Scotland’s future holds, Corps Security will continue to plan for every conceivable eventuality. I would recommend that any other organisations with interests in Scotland do the same, however difficult it may be.

Corps Security Website


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