Saturday, 23 August 2014

Will ye no come back again?

Tourism in Scotland would survive a Yes vote in the country’s independence vote next month … and could even benefit from it, says Edinburgh-based travel writer Robin McKelvie

Edinburg Castle by Christian Bickel - Wikimedia Commons
SCOTLAND has faced many important dates throughout its tumultuous history, but there can scarcely have been any as important as September 18, 2014. This is the date when the country will decide in a democratic referendum whether it wants to fully run its own affairs again for the first time in more than 300 years. If it is a Yes vote, there will be ramifications for tourism. What are they and how serious might they be?

Once all the niggling and scaremongering – an unfortunate part of any divorce – surrounding the British Pound, EU membership and the UK’s national debt  dies away, the Scottish people will be left to decide on whether they want to run Scotland themselves again. The effects of independence would be immediate, as the fledgling independent nation would have to move quickly to clarify and establish a new set of relations with the rest of the world.

In tourist terms as a Scot and a travel writer, I have watched at close quarters  dozens of countries become independent. The first immediate effect I anticipate from those experiences is a massive bounce in tourism. This comes with the country being splashed across newspapers, magazines and TV bulletins around the world. Tourists have an innate desire to experience the new, and visiting what in essence would be Europe’s newest independent country would no doubt fire the imagination.

In more practical terms, scare stories have become part of the independence campaign with the No camp and associated media keen to stir up worries about border controls, currency issues and the like. In reality, most Western European countries generally find a way around such issues, agreeing pragmatics, as has happened with the border situation on the island of Ireland, where the frontier between the Republic and Ulster is fairly well managed.

Currency-wise, again I think pragmatism would triumph. Whether Scotland does become part of a ‘Sterling Zone’ in conjunction with the Bank of England (itself originally devised by a Scotsman!) or there is a looser currency pegged to sterling, or even a totally different currency, perhaps even the much-demonized euro, remains to be seen. However it pans out, big business will be pushing the politicians on both sides of the border to ensure as seamless an arrangement as possible, as both entities will be major trading partners with each other. Any practical solution here would then trickle down to iron out potential issues for tourists.

"Scottish Parliament" by gren - Wikimedia Commons

Moving away from the mooted negatives, there might actually be some benefits for tourists visiting Scotland. Given greater control, the Scottish Government would be in a better position to develop cross-border transport links such as the deeply unsatisfactory east coast road route, which is not even dual carriageway all the way to Edinburgh. The dualling of the A9 and A96 in Scotland might also be stepped up, with or without any European Union funds. Air transport might also improve, as the Scottish Government has already talked about a reduction in Air Passenger Duty – or even scrapping it – potentially signalling more flight connections and cheaper fares from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to Scotland.

Between now and 18th September the rhetoric and scaremongering from all sides will no doubt be stepped up. If Scotland does decide to go it alone, I would expect the post-referendum machinations from the Scottish side to be as canny and pragmatic as our reputation built across centuries at the administrative heart of the Union and British Empire. If this is matched by England, I see no reason for any major obstacles for tourism post independence. At the end of the day, people like to visit new, different places, so, surely, an independent Scotland would be an even stronger draw than before.

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