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Customs & Border Services in an Independent Scotland

Written by on 11 May 2021

Bill Austin worked for over 40 years in UK Customs & Borders services.

He advised newly independent nations on best practice in setting up their own services. Now he is an advocate of what Customs & Borders services could be like in an independent Scotland. Clue: they’d be much better than the current UK setup. We recorded two Yes Group meetings where he laid out the main elements that will be needed to set up Scottish Revenue Services.

You can download Bill’s paper on Smart Borders from independenceconvention.scot/transitions

Recorded for IndyLive Radio in Nov 2020 with permission of Voices for Scotland and Yes Skye and Lochalsh.

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Here are some of the points made by Bill in his talk:

  • The 2014 White Paper for the Referendum was abysmal as regards customs & revenue
  • Our revenue collection will follow from our Constitution which should say that wealth created in Scotland will be taxed in Scotland.
  • we will collect all tax owed unlike at present where revenues are not collected because the resources are not there to enable that.
  • collecting all revenue owed opens up more power to redistribute wealth, eg increase state pension so that it’s not near the bottom of OECD nations as UK State Pension is at the moment.
  • Hard borders are a no-no in modern world. No such thing as a hard border….. the World Customs Organisation and the EU Acquis don’t recognise the term. Hard border is Project Fear. Phrase came from Home Office where it sounds hard, but it doesn’t work in NI and it doesn’t work from the Treasury point of view because it doesn’t support trade. What EU wants to know is whether a customs system can protect the Single Market and the Customs Union.
  • frictionless borders come from an effective  Customs Service. In France about 90% of revenue is collected inland, not at the French borders.
  • we have a golden opportunity on the horizon. But we need our ports ready to go to support our exports and imports. In particular we need to be developing our ports on the East coast.
  • at present Scotland is in a statistical desert. Data is not collected in a way that enables us to know what Scotland is buying and selling.

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After Bill finished talking he took Q&As from his audience. Here are some of them:

  • Should immigration be a public health responsibility, rather than a Borders responsibility?
  • Could Greenock handle the really big container ships? Greenock is the export hub for the whisky trade, it’s massive.
  • We need infrastructure investment esp for roll on, roll off ports on east coast.
  • how much would it cost to set up these Revenue Services? how many would it employ, and where do we get them?
  • to what extent are the limits of HMRC caused by revolving doors where people from the big four accountancy firms advise and help make policy for HMRC?
  • what do you think about how about setting up AGFRR as tax and revenue basis?
  • what would be the order priority between collecting revenue, catching this who try to evade it, and supporting traders?
  • Freeports idea is being touted by UKGov. What’s your opinion of that?