A ‘yes’ vote on Thursday’s referendum to determine whether Scotland will leave the United Kingdom could see a newly formed Scottish pensions industry being regulated by a simpler and more digestible set of rules, consultants have said.
JLT Employee Benefits head of technical John Wilson said independence and the need to create and copy an entire regulatory system would allow Scotland to “consolidate and codify” rules and regulations around workplace pensions.
The debate comes as the vote on independence nears, with residents of Scotland expected to take to the polls on 18 September.
The current Scottish government and other advocates for independence set out their plans for a future Scottish pensions industry in a paper published in September 2013.
The government said it would continue with auto-enrolment, set up an equivalent to a National Employment Savings Trust (NEST), maintain the protection provided by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) and set up its own pensions regulator, albeit mimicking the current UK system.
However, Wilson said: “There would be an opportunity for an independent Scotland to consolidate and codify all the rules and regulations around workplace pensions and, at the very least, not have the same number of pages we have to grapple with at a UK level.”
Malcolm Paul, chairman of JLT Employee Benefits Scotland, agreed, saying the Scottish system could begin with a “fresh start”.
He said an independent Scotland would also be free to decide to use one regulator for workplace pensions compared with the two currently used in the UK, a system often criticised.
“One potential advantage of independence would be the fresh start,” he said. “Scotland could take the best ideas rather than being hamstrung by what is already in place.”
The independent country would also not face as many hurdles in setting up a government-backed pension provider used within auto-enrolment, he said.
The UK faced a long legal battle with the European Commission over the creation of NEST, as it contravened rules on state aid for companies operating in a private sector market.
Eventually, it was agreed the UK government could loan NEST funding, which would have to be paid off over a number of years, with restrictions placed on NEST’s operations.
Wilson said a Scottish NEST would not face as many hurdles, nor would it need such significant financing.
“One would think a Scottish NEST would not need the same amount of set-up funds, but the mechanism could be comparable to NEST,” he said.
“Scotland would not automatically be a member of the European Union, so it could provide state aid to any business it saw fit to.
“But the government would need to consider its aspirations, which is to be a European Union member state.”
Aside from creating a new regulatory regime, further detailed information on the future of Scotland’s financial systems remains illusive.
Lawyers previously warned that defined benefit members were at risk of losing pension protection over issues arising from setting up a lifeboat fund in an independent Scotland.