The Scottish Independence vote is now upon us and by Friday evening we should know how over four million Scots have voted.
Over the last few months we have all been caught up in the mire of conjecture, opinion and scaremongering that has surrounded a decision that either way will change the course of history and have wide ranging implications.
We have heard that it has the potential either to turn Scotland into one of the world’s most prosperous economies or lead it to bankruptcy, without a currency and without the support of the EU, depending on which side is talking at the time. We have heard all sorts of predictions about how various sectors of the economy will change and different business leaders have come out to back one side or the other. One sector that we have heard very little from though is the logistics and supply chain sector.
This is somewhat surprising because, for simple reasons of geography, it is a sector that is likely to see big changes if independence is chosen. Scotland is a challenge for many operators. Its population density is only one sixth of England’s, it has far fewer motorways and getting to the further reaches, including the many islands, is particularly difficult – all challenges for logisticians.
The Post Office for example is well known for having a Universal Service Obligation – an obligation to provide the same service at the same price to all parts of the country – but other businesses try to do something similar. Across the UK retailers offer products at similar prices, courier companies offer similar services at similar prices and yet the costs of distributing to the Outer Hebrides are clearly not the same as to more densely populated areas. A number of retailers have already intimated that charges might need to increase to reflect the possible set up costs in an independent Scotland.
For hauliers, there may be additional toll charges on routes through Scotland – all conjecture at this stage but a real worry for many transporters who have already seen fuel prices eating away at already slim profit margins.
The reason why there has been little discussion is probably because no one really knows what the outcome will be. So many decisions will have to be made, each of which inter-relates with all of the other decisions to create a plethora of unexpected consequences. Whilst politicians appear to relish debating such intangibles, those of us in business want a little more substance to work on.
And we cannot assume that a NO vote will return us to the status quo. All political parties have offered the Scots a range of additional powers should they choose to remain within the union – some of which will be no less profound and will change the shape of the UK for ever.
We will soon know which way Scotland has chosen to go. But that will be just the start of things or “the end of the beginning” as Churchill once said. We have years of discussion and negotiation ahead and it is likely to be a long time before we can truly be sure what the consequences are – whichever way the vote goes.