NICOLA Sturgeon has been amongst many politicians who have criticised the UK’s approach to money laundering, fraud and the facilitation of corruption in the last week or so.

Her comments have come within the context of the current crisis in Ukraine and the need to impose sanctions on Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs, but I suggest that they have a much wider relevance.

As a co-founder of the Tax Justice Network I have been campaigning on issues around corruption and offshore finance for almost two decades. What I know as a consequence is that most people think that the term “offshore” refers to some small island providing dodgy accounts, bankers and companies for use by criminals and tax fraudsters. That, however, is not true.

Whilst I am not denying that there are dodgy small islands, criminals and fraudsters in the world - and that they seem to have an affinity for each other - the term “offshore” has a quite different meaning in finance. All that it actually means is “not here”.

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That Nicola Sturgeon and others are criticising the UK for facilitating offshore corruption is not surprising. Again, though, I have to stress that this is not because we are responsible for the activities of some of the world’s largest tax havens, even though that is true.

Instead, what we are responsible for is creating the idea of “offshore” itself.

This happened in 1958. To attract more foreign business to the City of London, it was decided that when a transaction took place in the UK between two non-residents of the country (whether of the living warm-blooded variety, or companies) then the UK would not regulate this transaction. It would instead treat it as taking place “offshore”. The consequence was that the City authorities decided that these transactions did not need to be regulated in the UK.

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What the City authorities also decided was that such transactions were for others to regulate, but of course, they never put in place the checks to make sure that such regulations ever took place elsewhere. As a consequence, the UK created what I have called in my academic work “the secrecy space”. This describes a no-man’s land where financial transactions go entirely unregulated.

What the City of London created others then copied. The rise of the tax haven world followed from London’s lead. As we all know, corruption was the consequence.

The National: IRVINE, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 17: Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits the turbine installation company, Windhoist in Irvine, on Scotland's south-east coast on January 17, 2022 in Irvine, Scotland. Sturgeon has welcomed the "truly

Nicola Sturgeon (above) was right to criticise the UK Government for its refusal to address this deep sore for which the UK is responsible. There is, however, another dimension to this that it is important to mention.

In past debates on independence, the possibility of Scotland becoming a tax haven has been discussed. I would sincerely hope that the change in opinion on taxation matters around the world would now put paid to any such thought. However, that would still leave the approach that Scotland would take to transparency in general open to debate.

In 2010, I was challenged by Jersey to suggest an alternative business model for that island, of whose tax haven I have been a major critic. My suggestion was a simple one. I proposed that Jersey should give up the tax haven opacity for which it was famous, and instead become the most transparent financial jurisdiction in the world.

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This would mean was that all companies would put their accounts on public record, without exception, and that their beneficial owners would have their identities put on public record as well. Where these companies actually trade would be on record and tax authorities would be made aware of all this information. Vitally, banks, lawyers and accountants would also all be required to make disclosure to both tax and company regulatory authorities each year of all those companies to whom they provided services, having to disclose in the process the amount that they knew that those companies banked during each such year.

The aim of this was simple. It was to prevent the chance of a company filing false accounts suggesting that it did not trade when it actually did.

Right now there is no country in the world in which this is open or transparent. As a result fraud is rampant, and increasing. The House of Commons Treasury Committee has suggested in a report published this week that fraud has increased by maybe 40% in the last year.

Real people suffer from this fraud. So too do honest businesses whose trade is undermined by it. And, as that committee noted, fraudulent companies whose real owners, real places of business and real trading activity is unknown because current UK legislation is so lax, are at the heart of this epidemic of fraud that does not just benefit international oligarchs, but petty criminals and fraudsters as well.

When it is independent, Scotland will have a choice about the approach to transparency that it wants to take. My suggestion is a simple one. It should require that all businesses in Scotland place their cards face up on the table.

Firms should disclose exactly what they do, where they do it, and who they do it with. That way the fraudsters will be driven out of the country to the benefit of everyone who lives in it. There should be no room for “offshore” in an independent Scotland.