Programming politics

What Scottish independence could mean for developers

Coman Hamilton

A yes vote in the upcoming Scottish referendum could have some interesting results for programmers – or absolutely none at all.

Politics and programming rarely overlap. Things appear to be no different when it comes to the Scottish independence referendum. Every programmer in the UK will be able to give you an opinion on the matter. But when it comes to their everyday programming work, the concept of Scottish independence just doesn’t come into play.

Or does it?

In the event of a yes vote, the UK will have to change. And it might well need software engineers to help.

Changing the state of IT

If Scotland says ‘aye’ in the upcoming referendum, the newly independent nation will need to redevelop its own versions of public IT systems. Presumably, many areas of the public sector will initially hold onto the established British back-end systems. But in the short-term, there are countless official government websites and systems, from the NHS to the transit system, that will need front-end IT work to establish its independence.

As the founder of Snook, a Scottish design agency recently explained in her Webinale keynote, many websites from the Scottish public sector are awkward and user-unfriendly, requiring many clicks to get where you need. Independence might be just the opportunity the country needs to revamp the public sector’s online image and user experience.

Good news for Java developers?

Java has the potential to play a central role in Scottish independence. Indeed, not just Java but also C++, Python and other programming languages favoured by financial institutions. In the wake of a vote in favour of independence, the UK’s financial institutions will need to recalibrate its banking systems according to the new nationalities – no easy task, considering that many such IT systems take years to develop.

As a result, a yes vote might well lead to a rise in Java developer job opportunities, especially in London’s central banking district, where the Royal Bank of Scotland claims it will establish its new headquarters in the event of a yes vote.

London’s Java community will continue to thrive

Vibrant and well-populated, London’s Java community is like no other in the UK, perhaps even Europe. Scottish software programmer and blogger Graham ‘Grundlefleck’ Allan told JAXenter he believes it will stay that way.

With regard to Scottish independence, it appears that London attracts and retains the many skilled developers that make up these communities, and it attracts them from all over the world. If London is able to draw people from all over the world, I don’t see why it wouldn’t continue to attract developers from an independent Scotland. So the biggest Java community in all of the UK is likely to remain unaffected, it will still draw developers from Scotland and everywhere else.

But the future of Java user groups does not have to be physically based in London, Allan argues.

Having moved back to Scotland from London almost 18 months ago, to a small village which is over an one hour away from any developer community “action”, I haven’t been to any form of meetup here yet. I’m much more enthused by the prospect of distributed communities, such as the excellent virtualJUG run by Simon Maple. Such a community is already international by default.

A Yes campaign billboard in Stornoway, Scotland via Shutterstock

Fears of postponed IT projects

Regardless of positive or negative economic outcome for the UK, it’s likely that the a yes vote would result in at least some degree of financial uncertainty. Several of the world’s biggest banks have warned about the potential economic consequences of a yes vote. At the same time, three quarters of Scottish voters believe that independence poses at least some form of risk.

The Bitcoin-fearing Bank of England also has its doubts about Scottish financial sovereignty under a shared currency. For this reason, many naysaying developers might worry the most innovative and experimental IT projects will be shelved amidst the financial uncertainty of an independent Scotland.

“In terms of Scottish developer communities in particular, I think it will track against the economy in general,” says Allan. “If Scotland’s economy does better, it’s likely to attract more business, investments and jobs, and these days that inevitably also means more software developers. The opposite will be true if the economy performs worse.”

Scotland is already home to dozens of international tech companies, notably Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and its very own Rockstar Games. Although none of these tech companies have followed financial institutions in an announcing a contingency plan to relocate in the event of a yes vote, Scotland’s “Silicon Glen” has the potential for long-term expansion and short-term deflation under an independent government.

The spectrum of predictions range from the pessimistic (a downturn in Scotland’s IT sector and a dip in high-risk innovation) to the optimistic (a short-term boom in IT to establish an independent public sector and independent banking systems), and finally to hollow (absolutely nothing at all will change). Either way, this is one political debate where IT has a say.

Scotland flags image via Shutterstock

Coman Hamilton
Coman was Editor of at S&S Media Group. He has a master's degree in cultural studies and has written and edited content for numerous news, tech and culture websites and magazines, as well as several ad agencies.

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