There is a perfectly good case for Scotland becoming independent and building on Mrs Thatcher’s greatest legacy – the European Single Market. It is generally forgotten that she sent Lord Cockfield to Brussels with a mission, and that his white paper, drawing on her experience in the UK, led to the greatest bonfire of regulation in human history. The squashing of 27 sets of regulations by the EU into one continues her work beyond the grave.
There are three major phases of modern free trade – the first is imposts on physical goods, the famous WTO tariffs. That phase had its heyday when Scottish coal and Scottish iron ore would be transformed into Scottish locomotives in Scotland – and exported as a piece.
The second phase – the non-tariff phase – began early when the International Telegraph Union did the sterling work of harmonising small matters of voltages across international borders. It was this phase that Mrs Thatcher built on. The modern locomotive (an aeroplane, a car, a mobile phone) does not emerge entire from a terroir like a fine wine or a Clyde built puffer. It comes from thousands of components from dozens of countries. But the management of these non-tariff barriers are not in themselves the key. Countries can be successful even with internal tariff and non-tariff barriers as Canada, the US and Australia can attest.
The third phase is the age just upon us. When the SNP came to power in Scotland there were no iPad or tablets or bitcoin or self-driving cars or Twitter. Facebook was a new wee toy thing.
Since then nearly every adult on the planet has an engine of commerce in their pocket, connected by harmonised physics to every country, with cross-border legal wrappers, detailed technical contracts governing the thousands of applications and which works in a hundred different languages.
It is a platform for tariff and barrier free commerce. To “export” successfully on this platform you need people here who speak the language there. The argument is made by liberal Brexiteers that successful companies will be able to import foreign workers when they need them. The actual process of how huge internet companies become huge seems to elude them.
Skyscanner, Scotland’s biggest internet company went to four languages when it had six staff. The idea that some pseudo-Soviet Department of Foreign Workers would be able to allocate critical resources according to some central plan is discredited nonsense.
Technical and industrial innovation never totally displaces its predecessors. We still have and we still need farmers and potters, but they no longer determine the spirit of the age.
I used to work at England’s biggest web company, Stoke-On-Trent’s bet365 – where the 3,500 staff had 80 mother tongues. Pottery was “the internet” of 2017 BC. Stoke should better heed bet365 than the discontents of its former glories. They don’t have that choice.
Scotland does. Software is at the heart of the hurricane of the modern economy – the economy of the future demands foreigners, foreign students with automatic residency baked in. It demands independence.
Gordon Guthrie has been a programmer since the 70s. He is a former SNP parliamentary candidate and the author of Winning The Second Independence Referendum: A Manifesto For Scotland In the European Union After Brexit.
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