The Elusive Referendum Monster

August 3, 2014

I have recently completed walking the {Great Glen Way:} – a truly beautiful walk in the Highlands (at low level) from Fort William to Inverness. This involves walking besides and above Loch Ness (for {i}days{/i}!) and I had ample opportunity to spot the monster. I am pretty sure I saw it a few times but I wasn’t always wearing the right glasses so I have thought twice about selling my story.
One of my pre-walk resolutions was to engage those we met on the trail in a discussion of the forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland. This resolution was somewhat undermined because (i) even walking in July, we managed hours at a time without seeing a soul, (ii) the few people we encountered were from Surrey, Bolton, Germany, France and Papua New Guinea respectively and (iii) by the end of the day, when I did meet a few residents, I was too tired for serious discussion about Scottish politics.
One of the reasons I was keen to engage in discussion on the topic was that I have been amazed by the absence of any scare stories about the effect a ‘Yes’ vote might have on IT. I was convinced that this would be an opportunity for those involved in IT services to warn us all of the terrible consequences for our personal data, company servers, the Cloud and software IP if the Scots leave the UK. You name it, I expected a scare story on it. I remember Y2K and logic was then no barrier to the fear that something awful might happen. (Of course nothing awful did happen as a result of the Y2K bug, although the absence of ‘awful’ was partly explained by the work done to avoid it.)
The one suggestion I have heard is that it might be wise when populating a database in 2014 to be able to identify and extract Scottish users/addresses in 2016. Nothing else at all.
I suspect that there are at least five reasons for the absence of scare stories, or even sensible advice:
1. Nobody really believes that there will be a ‘Yes’ vote.
2. Nobody knows what to do about it and, in view of 1 above, nobody wants to make the effort to find out.
3. Scotland has a different legal system anyway and everyone copes.
4. The assumption is that EU law will continue to apply, either by operation of law or by voluntary acceptance, and this sets most of the parameters that affect IT law whether Scotland is independent or not.
5. Existing law would continue to apply until the newly independent nation’s legislature said otherwise, and IT law changes are not likely to be high on the list of its priorities.

Reason number 2 is by far the most important.

If there has been feverish planning in IT departments and law firms, it has passed me by. Now we have reached a point where the main factor justifying inertia is ‘we might as well wait and see what the result of the vote is’.

Clearly a lot could change if there is a ‘Yes’ vote. Scotland is certainly not a raging revolutionary hotspot, with Alex Salmond about to reveal himself as the new Castro. But there are clear differences in the sense of what is fair between Scotland and England (at least Southern England) and these will tend to create fault lines that may run through IT-related legislation if there is a Yes vote. There may well be different outlooks on copyright issues for example.

I would certainly be interested in hearing of any developments that I have missed where IT issues, especially IT law issues, have been addressed in the referendum debate. E-mail me or add a comment. Please try and resist the temptation offered by my strapline to comment ‘No’.