Sarah Mathieson, head of research and knowledge at the IFoA speaks about furthering actuarial science
On 18 September 2014, the Scottish electorate will be asked "Should Scotland be an independent country?". As actuarial professionals working in financial services - in Scotland, the rest of the UK or overseas - we should be taking note of this debate.
Putting aside the implications for European politics and the precedent that a 'yes' vote could have, the likelihood is that, regardless of the outcome, there will be change. At present, opinion polls suggest a 'no' vote, following which the Scottish government will surely try to gain further powers from Westminster in areas such as taxation and welfare. However, just a few months prior to the last Scottish elections, the opinion polls suggested a victory for Labour, yet the result was a thumping victory for the Scottish National Party (SNP). A 'yes' vote in September would result in substantial changes as Scotland gets to grips with just what it means to be independent. The effect on financial services and the working lives of actuaries in Scotland and throughout the UK and overseas would be considerable.
For this reason, the IFoA has spent the past year engaging with all sides of the debate: the 'yes' campaign, the 'no' campaign, Westminster and Holyrood. Just over a year ago, the Scottish Board and the Public Affairs and Consultations Committee agreed that IFoA policy should be neutral on the question of the referendum. A working party, which I chair, was established to look at the issues raised by the debate for our profession. We produced lists of questions on a wide range of financial matters and presented these at member events in Edinburgh and London. Interestingly, the feedback from members was overwhelmingly in favour of stronger engagement by the IFoA in this debate. We responded with a follow-up paper in October 2013, 'Commentary on the key challenges facing an independent Scotland within financial services', which generated a significant level of national and regional media coverage.
Our engagement has also had a beneficial effect on our public affairs programme. We have received positive feedback on our involvement from representatives of both the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns and from other organisations, all of whom recognise the IFoA's politically neutral position. When I spoke to him on the phone late last year, the Secretary of State for Scotland said "the IFoA's approach is a model that others can follow". We will continue to meet stakeholders and scrutinise materials published by all sides. Our aim is to make sure that the issues affecting financial services and our profession get the attention they deserve. For this reason, the IFoA is co-sponsoring a series of seminars by the David Hume Institute, held in January and February 2014, with speakers from all the major political parties. On 20 March at The Hub, Edinburgh, the IFoA is hosting a Question Time-style debate that asks 'What are the implications of Scottish independence for the financial services sector?' This debate will be chaired by Bill Jamieson, former executive editor of The Scotsman, and speakers will include Alistair Darling MP, Alistair Carmichael MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, and John Swinney MSP, cabinet secretary for finance, employment and sustainable growth. This high-profile event will be open to members and non-members and offers the chance to question our panel and contribute to the debate.
To my mind, there are many major questions. What might the economy of an independent Scotland look like? Will it stay in the EU? How would taxation change? What kind of financial markets would exist and how would the Scottish government support them? What cross-border arrangements would need to operate for financial services between Scotland and the UK? What aspects could remain shared between the two countries? How would independence affect the person in the street?
Our debate on 20 March promises to be an engaging evening that feeds into further engagement work by the IFoA. I look forward to seeing many of you there.
To book your free place, email [email protected]
To learn more about the IFoA's engagement in the Scottish debate, visit www.actuaries.org.uk/members/pages/scottish-board