The official 16-week campaign for the referendum on Scottish independence is now very much under way. It is fair to say that never before have the Scottish voters been subjected to such a marathon campaigning exercise – but it is a reflection of how much is at stake.
The battle lines are firmly drawn, with the ruling SNP and the minority Scottish Green Party supporting the Yes Scotland campaign, and the Scottish Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties supporting the Better Together pro-Union campaign.
It’s of interest to look at the policies being put forward by First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader Alex Salmond, as a case for how an independent Scotland could work. Important for the business travel community is how central international connectivity is to the vision of a strong, independent trading nation and the rejection of the concept of a small and isolated country.
Published by the Scottish government under Salmond, the white paper Scotland’s Future is very clear that independence would allow the country to develop an aviation approach that “suits the people of Scotland”.
This would include the development of new routes, boosting tourism by encouraging the use of direct flights to Scottish airports, and working at the top table in the European Union to develop more efficient international regulation.
Air Passenger Duty (APD) reduction and eventual abolition has a key part to play in delivering this vision, and in the Yes camp’s own words “would be a priority for the nation”. An independent Scotland would reduce APD by 50 per cent in the first term of the independent parliament, with a view to abolishing it “when public finances allow”.
The Yes campaigners are also promising a smooth transition for airlines, rail operators and their passengers as powers begin to be executed by an independent Scotland through existing institutions.
For example, we will apparently see the present regulatory authorities for transport, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Civil Aviation Authority, continue to operate in Scotland while the “options for regulation are examined further”.
What is clear is that regardless of the result on September 18, the debate over Scottish independence and its likely impact on issues concerning the business traveller will not be silenced any time soon.
In the event that there is a vote to stay in the UK, the three main UK parties are likely to offer up further concessions to the Scottish government in the run-up to the next general election, in order to demonstrate that they understand the concerns of the Scottish public.
It remains to be seen whether Scottish autonomy on APD may form part of these concessions.