There aren’t many areas of public life which remain neutral amid the ongoing political skirmishes over Scottish independence and the upcoming referendum.
But now the debate has made the leap into another space. Cyberspace, to be exact.
The campaign to establish a new “dotScot” web address was given a boost with the news that UK Government ministers are apparently “relaxed” about the proposal, and seemingly ready to back the move.
If you’re still wondering what the fuss is all about, it’s essentially a way of giving Scotland a Top Level Domain (TLD), in the same way that the UK has dotUK, France has dotFR and even Catalonia - the autonomous region of Spain - has dotCAT.
Already, the Scottish Government is banging the dotScot drum, with a spokesperson for the First Minister quoted as saying: “Scotland is well on the road to independence, and it looks like we will soon be independent in cyberspace too – the dotScot domain name will be a great boost in promoting Scotland around the globe.”
But what is to be gained from a digitally independent Scotland, so to speak?
The practical benefits are not immediately clear, according to Craig McGill, founder of online brand consultant Contently Managed. “A .com can do everything a .scot will,” he says. “So the question is - who is this to the benefit of? Is it for people to see that you are a genuine Scottish company or person?”
The real bounty of the dotScot migration lies in the hands of the gatekeepers, McGill reasons. “The Scottish Government could use it as an interesting fundraiser for the country just as the UK Government did well with the 3G frequency sell-off,” he says. “If the Government even wanted to, it could make it mandatory that a business trading in Scotland had to have one - or it could offer it as part of a sweetener for firms to be based here.”
Others have argued that this seemingly innocuous introduction of four letters to the end of a web address can have far-reaching implications. Writing in The Scotsman last year, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said the dotScot name “offers a marvellous opportunity to engage with the wider Scottish diaspora”.
“There has been a growing understanding in recent years that engagement with the diaspora is vital in a globalised world where people and business are highly mobile,” she wrote. “There is obviously an economic impact. There is also what is called the “brain gain” as our enhanced cultural and economic presence attracts talented, skilled people to live and work here.”
Whenever new domain names become available, though, there is a risk that a resultant ‘gold rush’ could lead to ‘cybersquatting’, where certain web firms chasing a fast buck snap up the more prestigious addresses in a landgrab akin to an internet version of the Monopoly board game. Is this likely to be the case with dotScot?
“Well there’s the big question isn’t it,” McGill says. “Who decides? I do work with Whyte & Mackay whisky so I think they should have whisky.scot but I’m sure that Jura Whisky, Dalmore whisky or Johnnie Walker might think otherwise. Depending on pricing, I think you’ll see some firms buy URLs (Uniform Resource Locators, aka web addresses) so that they can fly the flag as Scottish firms, but if they suddenly expect that to bring them fortunes then they’re being fools.”
Any changes to the web domain for Scotland would have to receive final approval from the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), but if successful there could be dotScot websites as early as next year. So is it important to act fast and snap up one of the new domains at the earliest opportunity?
“If your surname is Scot (unlikely) then it could be a bit of fun - ditto if you are a diehard patriot and think this is a great way to show off your love for Scotland,” McGill says. “But given that most people in Scotland think it’s quite tragically sad and geeky for a person to own their own named URL I don’t think we’ll see a rush of emails on this one. It’s more likely to be businesses going and registering them, just to add to the portfolio, as they have done with .com, .co.uk and a number of other names.
“If Scotland goes independent then it could be a nice gift but it’s like buying a piece of the moon or getting a star named after you - a nice token gesture but little more. Most people would never do anything with it.”
• For more information on the dotScot campaign, visit dotscot.net
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