An in-depth plan on how to set up an independent Scotland is about to be published in a brand new book. Here, we run our fourth extract from the Common Weal project:


TO be independent as quickly as possible we need to be as ready as possible. That means there must be proper preparation – and there are three areas in which this will be particularly important. If these tasks are left until after there is a vote for independence the moment when Scotland is properly able to become independent will be pushed back, and perhaps substantially so.

The first of these is to have a clear proposal for what an independent Scotland would look like. At the last referendum there was a White Paper which contained within it elements of a statement about how an independent Scotland would be set up, but it was a long way short of a comprehensive plan and it used a number of ‘short cuts’ to get round an unavoidable lack of preparation, primarily by relying on sharing agreements. That White Paper also contained a lot of material which was better suited to a discussion document – it was not about how to set up an independent state but a description of some of the things that a future government might do after independence.

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There were two implications of this. The first was that voters regularly reported that, while they very well understood the principle of becoming independent, they struggled to understand how it would happen or what it would involve (and as a result campaigners tended to rely on “it’ll all be OK” answers). A failure to have a clear sense of what would happen after a Yes vote is regularly reported as a factor in people voting No.

But every bit as important, had there been a Yes vote, much of the job of actually managing the transition and creating a new country would have had to be made up as we went along. As an analogy, it would be the difference between building a tower block from detailed engineering drawings and trying to make it up on the spot on the basis of artists impressions. It can be done – but it is much, much slower and will result in more errors that must then be corrected.

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A speedy and effective nation-building process (better able to gain public support) will need a reasonably detailed specification for what is being built before the transition begins. This means that the answers to all the big questions must be there, at least in outline. In many cases, building can’t begin until these questions are properly answered so if building is to begin immediately after a successful vote, preparation is key.

A White Paper which explains what will happen between a vote for independence and independence day itself should be published at least six months before a vote. Once published it should become a firm commitment – this isn’t intended as a consultation (that should happen during the production of the White Paper). It sets the outline shape of what the work must achieve.

The second thing that will be needed to move this process forward properly is a project plan. Specifying what you are going to achieve is necessary, but working out how you are going to achieve it is just as important – at least if work is to get underway rapidly. How will fine detail be produced? Who will do it? How will it be project managed? What inputs will be required (recruitment and procurement)? From where will they be sourced?

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Inevitably, this plan will adapt and evolve once work is underway, but that work cannot begin in earnest until this is considered. So there should be an outline project plan before the referendum which would become a full project management approach when a referendum is won.

Discussing project management may not have the romantic appeal that the campaign for achieving Scottish independence has, but it would be a serious mistake not to think clearly and seriously about this at an early stage. Setting up Scotland as a new nation state is a complex and involved process. It has many strands and, as well as each strand being complex in itself, many of them interact with other separate strands.

So for example, setting up a digital payment system to replace BACS will be necessary to implement the new currency. But at the same time, payment systems will need to be put in place in every IT system in the entire public sector to be able to move to payment in the new currency. So if there is a delay in the implementation of a digital payment system, this will mean a delay in preparing every single IT system in the public sector.

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The way to manage this is to have very good project management. The overall project must be split into individual work streams. Each of those must be further broken down to a schedule of individual tasks, and these must be allocated to teams whose responsibility it is to deliver them. There must be some form of progress monitoring in every project strand and then detailed milestones must be set. These must then be integrated into the project plan for each other task that relies on the same milestones being achieved and so on.

And no matter how well the overall project is planned or how talented the people delivering it, no project ever goes entirely to plan. There are always problems, unexpected circumstances and mistakes; nothing proceeds entirely smoothly. So it is important to create a ‘risk register’ – a detailed assessment of all the things that might go wrong and how each would impact on other work streams. For example, it might be concluded that failure to produce the payment system would be considered a potential crisis for other parts of the work. This enables contingency planning to be put in place. It also helps managers to prioritise that which has the biggest potential impact if it is not implemented properly.

These are all absolutely standard project management approaches and are not in and of themselves difficult or unusual. But this is a difficult and unusual project simply in the volume of crucial work being run in parallel. So it is essential that a very high degree of importance is placed on the project management and that must begin well before a referendum is won. Thankfully, Scotland has many excellent project managers and identifying a team capable of seeing this entire project through from start to finish should be perfectly possible.]

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Which takes us on to the final piece of essential preparation – recruitment. There are some major projects which rely heavily on specialist goods and services – protected intellectual property rights, advanced computer components, extensive distribution networks and so on. This is not the case when setting up a new nation state. There are of course materials and agreements that will be necessary (military hardware, IT programming, negotiated agreements with other nation states). But the vast majority of the work is not resolved by a component or some software code but by human talent.

Scottish independence has sometimes been presented as being, at heart, a complex procurement issue – “from where will you be able to get your tanks/consulates/software systems?” In fact, it would be much more accurate to see it as a major recruitment and human resources issue. We will need the best negotiators that we can find. We will need people with deep knowledge of currency and monetary policy issues. We will need people who have wide experience of defence and military issues. If we can recruit good people with the right knowledge and skills (and equip them with a solid plan to enact) we can be confident of successful outcomes.

We need to be realistic about where we can get talent from. In many of the areas of expertise needed to complete the work it will be possible to find high-quality candidates in Scotland. Where possible, this should be the preferred source of talent. But not all of the skills needed can be found in Scotland – since we don’t have any monetary policy responsibility we have few if any practitioners in-country.

A second option is to look for Scots who are working elsewhere and to try and attract them back. But we cannot be short-sighted and we should be ready to seek to recruit anyone who is best able to do the job.

This might mean looking at people who have worked with other governments to do these kinds of jobs in the past or it might mean looking for late-stage career professionals who want a last, major challenge – there are many people who would be attracted to the possibilities contained in designing new systems from the ground-up in an integrated way.

But we will need many new people and it will undoubtedly take time to get them in place, particularly those who are at a senior level. The process for recruitment begins with proper job and person specifications for each role.

This is followed by substantial research (involving talking to many experts in any given field) to find suggestions of possible candidates. Once sufficient numbers of candidates are identified they must be reduced to a shortlist by researching each of them individually and assessing them against the job and person specification. This will lead to specific targets.

The task of persuading them to accept a job offer involves many elements because people are motivated by different factors – personal and ethical as well as professional and economic. For each target a persuasive package and recruitment strategy must be put together, and these may look very different for someone with a young family compared to someone nearing the end of their professional career. People are seldom motivated by money alone – quality of life factors and the scope of professional opportunities offered are crucial.

The task is made more complicated in this instance because it is not possible to absolutely guarantee that the job will exist given that it relies on the outcome of a democratic vote. Ideally, campaigning for Scottish independence will have been successful to the extent that a positive vote appears highly likely from polling evidence giving potential candidates for roles a degree of confidence that the job will actually exist. Either way, conditional offers will have to be made to get people ready to be in place by or soon after the beginning of the transition period.

To illustrate the timescales involved, the recruitment of a core team of say 100 senior people would be expected to take not less than 18 months of work by a team of about 20 or 30 professional recruiters. If this is not done in advance we are left with two options – either we delay the start of work substantially or we “make do” by “recycling” the people who are already involved in public affairs in Scotland (a “friends and family” approach). Neither is an attractive solution.

If Scotland wants to be prepared to become independent as quickly as possible, it should have a recruitment team in place not less than 18 months before a vote, a clear and comprehensive White Paper published not less than six months before (and preferably substantially before that) and a detailed project plan ready with not less than three months to go.

How to Start A New Country is available for order now on Common Weal’s website.