As it draws closer to September the 18th, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are exploding with “No” or “Yes” campaigners trying to convince people to vote one way or another. While as a normal citizen – I know what choice I’d make, but as a small business owner – I’m afraid of what might happen if we were to go independent. I’m not the only one either.
Before we go any further, I feel it’s warranted to have a little disclaimer. I shouldn’t need to say this but after some of the recent (what can only be described as) shit storms on various comments sections regarding this topic – please don’t turn the comments section of my blog into a canvasing area for or against. I’ve already made up my mind personally (and I’ll be keeping that view to myself) but as for professionally – there’s a number of lingering questions, hence the post. As to the background for this post - I’ve read several articles recently from businesses who were asked how they felt about Scottish independence. Almost all of the businesses/CEO’s/MD’s that were interviewed were from multi-million pound companies trading globally. While that’s very well and good, it doesn’t really represent people like me or my business. These guys can lose a few million and it wouldn’t even dent their coffee budget.
Back when the white paper was released, we signed up to get a copy. After recovering from the heart-attack of when it hit the door mat (spoiler alert – it’s pretty thick), I had a quick flip through it and had a few pretty tough questions regarding the future of my business(-es). Naturally I hit Google with as many of them as I could think of but wasn’t seeming to find any answers that I’d say were nearly acceptable. I understand that without actually choosing one or the other most questions will never be answered but unfortunately business doesn’t work that way. Although we take risks a lot, most of them are calculated risks based on something from an excel spreadsheet… and pie charts. There’s always a pie chart.
Relinquish all the domains!
Back when the postman was playing extreme frisbee with the white paper, I read a few articles on domain names in an independent Scotland. The TLD .scot has been introduced recently (which I hate for a million other reasons) and Salmond obviously proposed we use that. Great, another £3.99 / year out of my limited budget for each company but a small price to pay for a supposedly better future. Reading further into it though it seemed that the only way I could hold on to my .co.uk domains was if I were to have a registered address in England. Of course, this might be relaxed but while everyone is busy debating the really fine points about stuff that has been done to death – this always gets overlooked. I’m absolutely not registering my company all the way down in England. It costs a fair bit of money to register your company at another address (accountants usually do it if you use their services) but don’t you think that some smart alec is going to hike the fees during independence as it’ll be a money spinner? That’ll be more money out of my practically non-existent budget, theoretically.
Let’s forget about the cost though and just go on the Google impact. For this blog, it’s not a big deal if I lose .co.uk financially in the grand scheme of things. I’ve registered most of the TLD’s anyway so can easily switch but what happens to all the old Google search links? I’ll turn in my .co.uk on the 19th, somebody else will register it and Google will suddenly be sending them all the traffic for a particular keyword. Okay, my blog doesn’t rely on keywords but I do have a few friends that do for their e-commerce businesses. Imagine if overnight you suddenly lost 90% of search traffic thanks to a Yes vote. That’d suck.
90% of business is south of the border.
Okay this one is a particular concern of everyone I’ve spoken to in the startup/small/medium sized business community and one that nobody can answer fully. Most of my and others’ business is back down south and, at the moment, it’s a pretty straightforward deal. Whether it’s software or a physical product – shipping, tax, currency, phone numbers, etc. – they aren’t a problem. If we were to go independent though, that could quickly become a bigger nightmare than anyone expects.
Even if it were to go amazingly smoothly (which it won’t) and everything was left as is (which is unlikely) it’ll add a whole load of organisational complexity that I didn’t have to deal with before. Big companies can afford to hire more people or train their staff on new procedures and, although they might not like it, it’ll have a small impact in the overall company. For me, it could give me a whole load of headaches that I really could do without and perhaps even add on some cost. Cross-border taxes, currency exchange, and even just a new load of paperwork to do is going to really take it’s toll on my already overtaxed mind. When 90% of my business is back down south (and if it were to cause an operational minefield) I think I’d be very tempted to move the office down south. Again, I’m not the only one.
Whether you like the EU, hate it, or simply think “these are the countries I can bring cigarettes back from” – it’s something that’s brought up in the independence vote quite often. The EU says we’d have to re-apply, Salmond says “naw were no”. Regardless, what happens to the EU trademarks, EU patents, EU trading regulations and other equally important stuff that’s been registered pre-independence? What happens to the stuff that’s in progress? Patent applications and trademarks don’t happen overnight so have I potentially wasted money? Does the EU patent no longer apply if we did go independent or will it still cover the EU until it expires?
This one is a little more scary than the Scotland/England point above as not only is it more difficult for a non-EU country to trade with an EU one, there’s substantially more people (customers) in the EU that’d we’d potentially be missing a sale with. And then of course there’s the whole Euro thing…
That’ll be 3 Salmonds and 50 Sturgeons please.
Sort of related to the above, this is something a lot of people have mentioned. What bloody currency will we have? There’s three choices – the Pound Sterling, the Euro, or a new currency (the Salmond for ease of argument and because it’s fun). The one that’ll cause the least disruption is the Pound, obviously, but Westminster says we can’t have it. The Euro is the next logical choice as that’ll allow us to tick a few of the EU entrance criteria and trade easily once we’ve gotten over the fact it looks like “funny money” (overheard from my mother). The last option is one that most people personally don’t have a problem with but, as a business owner, I really do. A new currency would be devastating to my business as most of the money goes back down south. Think about the services a business may use – manufacturing, distribution, design, development, building, cleaning, accountancy, etc.. I use a few English companies to work with me on most of the above and can guarantee that a new currency will just cause more headaches operationally than it’d be worth.
Of course, I could be wrong but if I’m not it could seriously impact my business… Is that worth the risk?
You’ll be £xxxx better off!
This point is more for those of you who think I’ve not made up my mind and are trying to convince me. It’s still something I wonder about, but less so than the ones above.
“You’ll be £x better off a year!” I hear often as a wooing mechanism for/against independence. That sounds great but you’re forgetting one thing – I pay taxes a little differently to the average person. Rather than paying NI or PAYE through my wages, I get taxed monthly based on a very accurate estimate that I supply the HMRC. At the end of the financial year I’m legally obliged to submit my earnings to the HMRC for them to audit and decide how much tax I should be paying/be refunded. The claims about me being better off don’t apply unless I’m earning a really decent amount.
The last figure I saw was £1,000 which (regardless of whether I think it’s all lies or a decent estimate) means you all get to make more in your wage packet but doesn’t mean I get a nice £1,000 bonus from the desk of Mr. Salmond himself. No actually all it does is raise my tax threshold meaning that I can earn more money before I’m due to pay more tax. That doesn’t make me £1,000 a year better off – it gives me a £1,000 tax buffer to play with which is great if you’re earning over the threshold. For those who don’t though – this is a hollow point.
Anyway regardless of what my personal feelings are about independence (or indeed yours for that matter), I think it’s necessary for small businesses to press for answers to these questions before it’s too late. I don’t expect the government to give us nicely formatted excel spreadsheets or indeed a full blown 5 year business plan, but I do expect some amount of reassurance that independence won’t cost me my business, my job or my dreams.