More prominent individuals from Scotland's book trade – including BookSource m.d. Davinder Bedi and Sara Hunt, m.d. of Saraband, winner of last year's Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year - have spoken out about the industry implications of next month's independence referendum.
Meanwhile Timothy Wright, director of Edinburgh University Press, has urged trade members to "put their heads above the parapet" in making their views known.
A pro-independence letter signed by more than 200 figures from Scottish business has been published in the Herald this morning (Thursday 28th August). It follows yesterday's letter to the Scotsman in which many – including Birlinn's Hugh Andrews and Timothy Wright of Edinburgh University Press - argued the business case for independence had not yet been made.
In the Herald letter, figures including Stagecoach chair Sir Brian Souter, Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie and engineering tycoon John McColl are among the signatories arguing that successive Westminster governments have failed to pay heed to the interests of the economy north of the border. "Scottish industry is often treated as a cash cow rather than a strategically important part of a more prosperous and fairer society," the letter argues. "The London-centricity of Britain's economy is unsustainable. We must deindustrialise the nations and regions outside of South-East England. We must rebalance the British economy by sector and geography to ensure sustainable economic growth. Scottish independence will be a major step forward toward that goal…" One book trade figure, Freight Books co-founder Adrian Searle, appears on the signatories list.
But Davinder Bedi, m.d. of distributor BookSource, owned by Publishing Scotland, told The Bookseller: "I am a passionate Scot, of course I want us to be master of our destiny, but are these the correct circumstances to move forward? I am not so sure.
"I am not commenting on oil and the NHS – in an independent Scotland we will do some things better and others not. My issues are currency, EU membership and VAT. From BookSource's perspective, publishers appoint me as their distributor. They think it makes it easy for the market to get access to their books. It's all about infrastructure and availability, making it easy for the market.
"Seventy per cent of what we invoice is to organisations not in Scotland - that is 70% of my market or my publishers' market that will be affected by price and tax changes. In the absence of a clear steer, [on what the currency will be post-independence, and what the VAT arrangements will be on books] I can only go with the 'No' vote. If a customer from Milton Keynes wants to buy a book from me, I don't want him to have to think about exchange rates – [with VAT on books in Scotland] a £10 book could be £12 from me and £10 from Gardners. We are a book distributor based in Scotland, not a Scottish book distributor. If I rely totally on Scotland, that market is not big enough for me to survive.
Bedi went on: "People are asking us to take a leap of faith. Business doesn't work on faith, it works on facts. I can't vote on faith and jeopardise the well-being of my family. The bulk of my income comes from outside Scotland. If the rest of the UK is out of Europe, I need to be out of Europe. If the rest is in Europe, I need to be in. I cannot survive just selling to Scotland on its own, or to the rest of the EU minus the UK."
He added: "Of course the people of Scotland are looking at the bigger picture. For me, Monday to Friday nine to five governs my view on this. That's why I'm outspoken."
But Sara Hunt of Saraband said there would be advantages and disadvantages to both a "Yes" and a "No" vote. "We are headquartered here in Glasgow and in every sense a Scottish publisher," she said. "Our sales are headed in London by the Faber Alliance, distribution in Wales from MDL, our key selling partners such as wholesalers, and our readers, are spread far and wide. The arrangements we have at the moment are a textbook case of being dispersed throughout the UK.
"The current status quo is good for us, we would have to deal with lots of issues if a 'Yes' vote. On the other hand, if it IS a 'Yes' vote, all parties are prioritising a more progressive agenda – environment, health and welfare – in many ways that would be good for Scotland, and we publish in the environment area. We'll take the positives from either scenario".
She added: "There would be enormous change if it did happen and on the major issues we can't predict the outcomes. The honest answer on issues such as VAT is that nobody knows what the outcomes would be as negotiations have yet to take place. I personally think it's simplistic to think either all good or all bad – it's exciting. We'll just take it step by step."
Meanwhile Edinburgh University Press director Timothy Wright, who was a signatory to the anti-independence business leaders' letter, urged industry figures to speak out about their views, saying: "People need to put their heads above the parapet – we've got three weeks to go."
Wright said: "We are now three weeks away from voting, the postal vote has already begun, and the whole VAT [on books] question has not been addressed – it has been brushed under the carpet. Most legal advice is that if Scotland joins the EU it will not be in line for exemptions - no new member of the EU has been allowed these exceptions and why Scotland should be exempt no-one has explained to me.
He added: "Currency for me is probably the biggest issue of all. If we keep the pound, but without the support of a central bank, or if there is a separate Scottish currency, the administrative implications of that are huge. How do we price our books? Dealing with distributors worldwide, the overhead would be huge. There's a lot of uncertainty. Why take that risk in three weeks' time, when the economy is doing well?"
Booksellers have already raised concerns about the possible introduction of VAT on books in the event of Scotland's independence; however some publishers are strong supporters of the "Yes" vote.
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