How would independence affect the Scottish toy industry?

This September Scotland will vote on whether to leave the UK or not. But how might the outcome affect the country's retailers?
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By the end of this summer, a question will be asked of Scotland with the potential to change the UK as it is known today.

Over recent weeks, you may have noticed an influx of words like ‘blether’, ‘rammy’ and ‘feartie’ peppering your morning newspapers, as politicians and campaigners dust off their best scottish in the battle for column inches.

And as the day of the Scottish referendum draws ever nearer, Westminster’s officials go head to head with their Scottish peers to ramp up the rhetoric in the attempt at securing those crucial votes.

But despite the headline grabbing spats, the celebrity fuelled Twitter debates and most recently Tony Benn’s posthumous anti-independence outage, the Scottish independence debate seems only to have left the most basic questions still unanswered.

What will the real cost of an independent Scotland equate to? How will independence affect the average resident and their disposable income? And just what is going to happen to the Scottish currency?

For the country’s population of small dealings – accounting for 98 per cent of scottish business and employing 42 per cent of those in the private sector – the answers could have a ‘potentially massive affect.’

And as independent retailers go, few are better positioned to witness the generational knock-on affects of an “expensive transitional period” than the toy sellers.

“There are serious concerns about how an expensive transitional period will hit not only the business directly, but also the families around us and their spending power,” explains Helen Gourley, owner of Dunblane toyshop, Toyhub.

“So, we aren’t confident that an independent scotland would benefit us, but then we aren’t confident that it wouldn’t.”

A quick glance at the latest headlines offer an indication of the kind of costs scotland is facing should the nation vote yes, with the country’s start-up figures ranging anywhere between £600 million and £1.5 billion.

Despite the enormity of the projected costs, the ‘yes’ campaigners and Scottish Government are adamant that it won’t leave retailers out of pocket and be paid for through an increased VAT.

“The process of independence itself will not change the tax rates we pay,” Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s minister for energy, enterprise and tourism tells ToyNews.

“As Scotland’s public finances are healthier than those of the UK, there will be no requirement to raise the general rate of taxation to fund existing levels of spending after Scotland votes independence.”

But it’s a confidence that isn’t shared by the toy retailers themselves, and Duncan Conner, managing director of the Largs-based toy and gaming shop Bus Stop Toy Shop is sceptical over exactly who will be left footing the bill.

“It’s easy for either side to produce numbers to back up their arguments, but there is no doubt that there would be a hugely expensive transitional period and the money has to come from somewhere,” he explains.

“It doesn’t matter where that somewhere is, it will have an impact on small businesses.”

Conner will be voting ‘no’ this September 18th, and among a list of personal reasons for doing so, tells ToyNews that it is the idea of orders being shipped ‘internationally’ from his England-based suppliers that presents him with his biggest nightmare.

And despite MSP Ewing’s reaffirmation that it is the intention “that postal charges to the rest of the UK will not be any more expensive than those within Scotland,” Conner is still not convinced.

“However much they tried to smooth things out, it would involve a whole new layer of administration and it’s not something I would want,” he says. “I’d rather spend my time selling toys and games.”

Of course, it’s not all been negative response, and ToyHub’s Gourley believes that with plans to scrap airline tax and the chance to escape the cog-works of the London-centric economy, an independent Scotland is an attractive prospect.

As a member of the Toymaster buying group, Gourley is confident that any issue surrounding international suppliers will be resolved by the team, well versed in dual currency and overseas shipping, through its network of Irish and Channel Island toy retailers.

And armed with such experience, the buying group is now preparing itself for an increase of Scottish members, should the country vote for its independence.

“Toymaster has several members in Scotland and I would expect to see this grow if Scotland voted for independence,” Ian Edmunds, Toymaster’s marketing and operations director, explains.

“Especially if they left the sterling, which would make paying sterling based suppliers more time consuming and expensive.”

While the Scottish Government sets out to champion the independent retailer with its offers of small business bonuses and a collaboration with small businesses to develop its town centre regeneration strategy, is it enough to ensure the survival of some of its independent shops?

Two years ago, Bus Stop Toy Shop’s Conner told The Guardian that he had avoided joining buying groups like Toymaster, because he ‘didn’t want to limit what he had to offer his customers, or have to order high minimum numbers.’

However, faced with the hypothetical changes, Conner is keeping his options open.

“I have always been fiercely proud of being a truly independent store,” he says. “i’d like to stay that way, but now would never rule anything out. with the potential for Scotland to leave the sterling, joining one is a possibility.”

Martin Grossman, managing director of the Glasgow-based toy supplier, H. Grossmans however, believes his firm would see “very little change” in a post-yes vote Scotland.

“We deal with lots of retailers in Southern Ireland with no extra work at all, so there will be very little change for us,” he explains.

But despite reporting no issues or concerns from any of his customers in the lead up to voting day, Grossman does admit that an independent currency would present major challenges to overcome.

“Trade will go on and not cause retailers issues unless we do get our own currency,” he says. “It will be a sad day. Taking in a bottle of whiskey for a chicken or exchanging sheep for a haircut.”

Perhaps Grossman’s tongue in cheek answer reveals a greater truth of the issues facing Scotland’s toy industry.

“We think that at the moment, everyone is a wee bit in denial,” explains ToyHub’s Gourley. “But what concerns us more
is the lack of tangible information from either side to allow us to make a more informed decision.”

So, would trading conditions in an independent Scotland be better? Perhaps in the midst of all the political gun slinging from both sides, the only reasoning we can conclude for now is that of one of Glasgow’s favourite exports, Kenny Dalglish: Mibbes aye and Mibbes naw.

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