By Andrew Morrison, chartered accountant
As the SNP well know, the current United Kingdom arrangements make for a larger, more beneficial single marketplace for professional services such as accountants, tax advisers – and of course auditors.
An entity registered in Edinburgh can use the services of a professional firm based in Manchester, London, or Aberdeen as equally well as they could within their home city.
The harmonisation of reporting standards, currency, VAT and most other taxes across the four home nations mean professional accountants such as myself have a potential target market of up to 67 million people across the United Kingdom rather than just 5.5 million people who reside within Scotland.
There are minor differences in terms of income tax for employment and self-employment income due to devolution in both Scotland and Wales, but the reality is that does not present an insurmountable challenge as the only variation is the rate of tax and the level of income where it is paid from.
Of greater importance is how the taxes are administrated and the general underlying principles of how the tax system works remains the same across the UK, such as the PAYE tax deduction system.
Other aspects of income tax such as how trust income, property rental income and savings & investment income are taxed also remain the same across the Union.
This all results in the very clear ability to grow our professional services sector benefitting in cross-border trade within the United Kingdom.
Unexpected pandemic opportunities
During the pandemic many professional services firms from estate agents and solicitors to accountants and business consultants learned how to work remotely and use videoconferencing tools such as Teams and Zoom to their advantage.
While there was a degree of resistance to working from home whilst firms adjusted to the new normal, the reality is practitioners are realising if you can work from home and service a client across town, you can also work from home and assist a client at the other end of the UK.
This isn’t just good for businesses – it is good for people.
Many workers are expecting at least part of their week to be based at home if their job can accommodate this.
Some are even able to do their job almost exclusively from home, which has opened up a new world for employers and employees alike.
Moving to a countryside retreat is no longer the domain of the retired but is an attainable reality for many professionals who can do their job wherever there is an internet connection, which helps with the much-needed balance between work and life.
This is a real win-win because it opens up new opportunities for employers too. Particularly when there is a shortage of skilled labour. The number of potential candidates for a job vacancy has become much wider as the need to travel to an office daily have virtually gone.
We should therefore welcome the free movement of people which exists across the four nations as part of the Union. No longer does a shortage of talented professionals in Glasgow present an issue, as working from home opens up the employment market to workers in Edinburgh, Ayrshire and even further afield. It is technically possible to live in Newcastle and to work for a firm based in Scotland fully remotely.
The nats’ EU myths
The Nationalists claim the freedom of movement of people, goods and services with the EU27 is of greater importance to Scotland than the freedom of such movement which presently exists across the four home nations, and in order to retore the former, they will end the latter. From a professional point of view, and someone who analyses numbers and data for a living, I have to say this is a total fallacy.
National Records of Scotland data shows over 800,000 people born in Scotland live elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and over 400,000 Brits from elsewhere live in Scotland. That’s around one in fourteen people in Scotland coming from another part of the UK, which is a very high level of integration.
The 400,000 fellow Britons who we share Scotland with is around twice the level of people in Scotland who originate from the entire remaining 27 countries who form the European Union.
While we very much welcome foreign migrants who reside in the UK, whether they originated from the EU or from further afield, the fact we share a currency, language and common culture with England, Wales and Northern Ireland results in a much more fluid exchange of talent, trade and provision of professional services such as my own field of accountancy.
No new barriers
Granted, this is just one sector. It is the one I know most about, having worked within it for 20 years, but financial and professional services is a vitally important part of the Scottish economy as well as providing an ancillary benefit to boosting all other sections of the economy. Other readers will have their own sector-specific expertise and experience to share here, which I hope they do.
To conclude, given the current geopolitical situation, high energy costs and the war in Ukraine, don’t we have enough barriers to our aspirations as a country without introducing new self-inflicted ones?
At a time when technology is eroding geographical boundaries to the benefit of workers, their employers and the general economy, why would we let the divisive politics of nationalism erect new boundaries in their place?
Andrew Morrison is a Chartered Certified Accountant with 20 years experience based in the Greater Glasgow area, where he is an accountancy practice consultant. After leaving school at 16 he took on a traineeship and become professionally accredited via vocational training rather than attending university. Andrew founded his own firm seven years ago, and with it growing to over 250 clients it is now successfully integrated with a larger practice allowing him more time to focus more on serving his constituents as a local Councillor in East Renfrewshire.