Strange Bedfellows : Scottish Independence and Tax Simplification
There has been much debate about Scottish independence and perhaps it is time to consider how it might affect business and the accountancy profession? It could also provide a perfect model for tax simplification.
It is chastening to think that when I travelled up to Edinburgh for an annual jaunt at the International Festival and Fringe a couple of weeks ago, that might have been the last time I could travel north of the beautiful town of Berwick on Tweed without a passport.
If Scotland does vote for independence, this will inevitably have a drastic effect on the lives of all of those on the far side of Hadrian's Wall (the near side if you're reading this in Edinburgh or Glasgow) but also quite possibly for the Sassenachs.
While Londoners might imagine that the effects will be limited, that may not be the case. For those living in Newcastle or other northern towns and cities drastic change could be on the way.
Having spent over a fortnight in Edinburgh, my perspective on this debate has changed completely. Whereas the English are treating the referendum as a topic to be ignored or regarded as a subject for light entertainment, those with votes often feel very passionate, regardless of which side of the debate they sit on.
Strangely, if badges are anything to go by there would be a landslide "yes" vote. I did not see a single "better together" or "no" badge, although possibly those who wish to stay in the Union are not great wearers of badges.
If Scotland does vote for independence in the referendum on 18 September, there will be all kinds of consequences. In particular, if there is a new currency this will create complications from both personal and business perspectives.
Similarly, if travel is more restrictive that might be an issue, while Scottish purchasers might well want to direct business and their neighbours rather than shopping with those nasty people who have been walking all over them and spending their oil money for far too long.
One of the most fascinating issues for those of us interested in finance will be the kind of taxing regime that the new Scotland chooses.
While the Office of Tax Simplification has done its best to improve the UK's haphazard system, the Scottish Chancellor could start with a completely clean slate. The mouth waters at the prospect of creating the perfect tax regime that will be the envy of the world.
If I were John Whiting, after undergoing all of the frustrations of trying to install change in a climate where the powers that be are frequently resistant, should the Scots go for broke, I would immediately be offering my services to create a perfect tax system from scratch.
Who knows, within a couple of years those lucky devils from the Borders to the Shetlands might have a single income tax rate, no social security contributions, capital gains tax or inheritance tax and a difficult decision on whether to plump for a sales tax similar to VAT.
In reality, most people I spoke to in Edinburgh seem to feel that while a "yes" vote would be exciting and possibly desirable, the most likely outcome is a continuation of the status quo.
Should that come about, by 19 September be independence debate will be forgotten for at least a generation and we will all have to go back to being one big, happy British family.