Five referendums have come and gone in my lifetime: two for Europe, two for devolution, one for independence. All five have been characterised by a lack of knowledge of what the future might hold after change. The exception was the 2014 Independence referendum when the Scottish Government published an inch-thick tome titled Scotland’s Future.
Following a Brexit decision which went against Scotland’s mighty 62%/38% preference to Remain, there is some talk of another Independence Referendum. Let me tell you that no one in Scotland wants a referendum for its own sake. Some people want independence and some do not. Others want independence but are afraid of it. No one in their right mind would actually want to go through anything like the EU referendum again but, nonetheless, another might come and independence might follow. Should this come to pass, on whichever side of the Border we might find ourselves, or whichever side of the argument we might stand, the one thing we would not want is the dismal failure of foresight from which we are at present suffering.
Publishers and booksellers curate the reading of the people of Britain and Ireland. This is an enormous responsibility and to ignore the possibility of a constitutional breach, or indeed breaches, because Ireland cannot be far from our minds at such a time, would be the opposite of responsible. We should be talking about it now.
A typical author contract will assign territories that will include an entity called Great Britain and Ireland and another called Europe. How will these territories be assigned in future? How will it be resolved for existing contracts should the constitution change? Sandstone Press contracts are typically agreed subject to the laws of Scotland. How will that play in England and Wales in future? Perhaps the legal duration of copyright will become different between Europe and "England and Wales". Perhaps VAT on books will be introduced by one future government but not the other. Imagine if one country or the other introduced a blasphemy law. Imagine trucks being searched at the border and copies of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion confiscated.
There will be more questions, and subscribers to The Bookseller, readers’ labourers all, can make their own list. My point is that we should be thinking about it, possibly tasking Publishing Scotland and the Publishers Association to look into the implications and full range of responses. Whatever else, practitioners whether authors, publishers, or booksellers, should not allow themselves to be alienated one from another by politicians who put personal advance before the wellbeing of the nation, or a fourth estate that has let us down so profoundly in the very recent past.
Because of the nature of the reporting you may not have considered the following, additional, complexity. Wet your finger and draw a horizontal line in the air in front of your eyes. Above the line is independence and below it "not independence". Now draw a vertical line down through the first line. On the left is EU-in, and on the right is EU-out. You now have four quadrants that represent the full menu of possible constitutional conditions (say solutions if you are a starry-eyed optimist) for Scotland. One conclusion from the recent past is that, if Britain can make such a momentous decision on so little evidence, Scotland can do the same on rather more. Independence in the EU, or independence outside the EU could now happen. Perhaps a Scotland within the EU, but with a Scottish pound pegged to Sterling, would be advantageous for both territories.
I don't really suppose we will be meeting by moonlight and throwing books over the barbed wire, but then I don’t actually have a clue what will happen. No one predicted what we are going through now. No one knows where it will end. It is our duty to talk, though, and we should begin forthwith. To be clear, I do not mean preparing arguments. I mean the preparation of strategies for dealing with another altered reality.
Robert Davidson is managing director of Ross-shire based independent Sandstone Press.