An independent Scotland’s tough government IT choices for The Register

One year ahead of the referendum, The Register last week published my assessment of the choices an independent Scotland would face on government IT.

It’s a mixed picture. Some sections of the public sector, such as the NHS, education and the emergency service, are already run by Scotland on a devolved basis, and so is their IT. But the UK-wide ones that would need to be unscrambled are also the biggest: HM Revenue and Customs, Department for Work and Pensions and secret (leaving aside Edward Snowden’s cornucopia of stories) surveillance.

On the first two, clearly an independent Scotland could set up its own agencies for taxation and benefits/pensions, but it would be a messy business. One interesting potential problem is an excess of processing capacity – Scottish offices of HMRC and DWP currently process a lot of English work, as well as all of Scotland’s, and could have to shrink if Scotland left the UK. A fairly lengthy transition period has already been accepted by those pushing for independence.

On the surveillance side, I asked the Scottish Government what it planned, and slightly to my surprise, got a fairly useful answer:

An independent Scotland will have its own domestic security and intelligence machinery sitting alongside our police service. This would see Scotland’s national security arrangements being legislated for, controlled, and overseen in Scotland, for the first time.

It even sounded keen on sharing with its other English speaking peers, although no confirmation on whether it would apply to join the Five Eyes (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) group. If it did, it would be the Sixth Aye. Yes, my government IT stand-up routine for next summer’s Edinburgh Fringe is coming on nicely.

Thanks for the response from Scottish independence expert David Torrance:

And from Charlotte Jee, when I tweeted I was back writing about government IT: