What Callsigns for an Independent Scotland?

Sometime after the United Kingdom Government and the European Union come to an agreement on the UK leaving the EU – generally known as BREXIT – all the governments of  the EU (including some local governments) will be given the negotiated terms in order that they can determine whether they can be agreed.   It is the plan of the Scottish Government to offer the people of Scotland an opportunity to decide, in a referendum, whether they wish to

(a) remain a part of a United Kingdom which has withdrawn from the European Union under BREXIT, or

(b) withdraw from the union which is the United Kingdom and return to being a self-determining nation as they were before before the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

The timescale for this has always been uncertain and could be open to variation but will relate to the period when it is expected that the UK’s withdrawal negotiations with the EU will have been completed and the proposed package is then available for the European Parliament, the Parliaments of the nations of Europe (and some European local parliaments) to consider and approve or reject.

The United Kingdom’s minority government is of the opinion that the people of Scotland should not be allowed to determine their future direction. The policy of the devolved government of Scotland is that this should be their democratic right and the Scottish Parliament has agreed with that policy.

At the time of writing this document, in Scotland support for independence from the UK is sitting around the 50% mark and there is, as yet, no campaign running to persuade the people of Scotland of the benefits of seeking Independence. Despite an ongoing campaign for many months by those who favour retention of the UK, in the recent UK election the voters of Scotland returned more independence minded Members of Parliament than those who favour retention of the union.

What is written here considers radio callsigns for Scotland. A similar political issue may exist for Northern Ireland where members of the Republic of Ireland government have indicated that they may require a programme leading to the unification of Ireland to be part of any BREXIT agreement.   The answer to future callsigns for Northern Ireland may be simpler, in that Ireland already has it’s allocation of EIA-EJZ (although some Radio Amateurs in Northern Ireland may prefer not to part with their existing callsigns)

Returning to Scotland now where Amateur Radio callsigns issued for use within the nation have traditionally started with GM (nowadays could also be MM or 2M). There is also the use of GS for Scottish club stations, GA (A for Alba) has been used or two extended periods of time and the shared special event call GB is also used.

All the above are part of the extensive range of callsigns allocated to the United Kingdom and its dependencies. But what would happen to Amateur Radio callsigns if Scotland chose to became independent from the UK.

During the independence referendum held in Scotland in 2014 there was some ill informed comment on this subject, where it was suggested that Scotland would be issued with “one of those funny number callsign prefixes” that are now issued to emerging countries. That, of course, could be one possibility. But there is precedent which would indicate a different outcome.

Callsigns are not owned by countries but allocated to them – by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) which is part of the United Nations. And history has shown that callsign allocations are not sacrosanct and can be withdrawn or modified.

Callsign allocations are not only related to Amateur Radio but also to the Maritime, Aeronautical and Broadcasting services (and just about any other radio service which might cross international borders).   Callsigns are allocated to the UK in the ranges GAA-GZZ, MAA-MZZ, 2AA-2ZZ, etc. This means that the option of saying all GM/MM/GA/2M/GS/MA callsigns could just be allocated to Scotland, is difficult – because their will be ships and aircraft registered in the UK which also use the first letters in their callsigns. (Traditionally UK ship callsign have been allocated in the format GBTT with four letters and aircraft in the format GAAIR with five letters although ship callsigns have become longer in recent times). So whether Scottish Radio Amateurs could retain their existing callsigns becomes a very big question.

Of course OFCOM,  the UK regulator, argues that regional secondary locators (RSL) are not really an integral part of callsign allocaton, are not required by the Radio Regulations and are not used by other countries.    OFCOM, of course, are very wrong. OFCOM themselves appear not to have retained records which explain the reason for the introduction of RSLs but they are thought to have come into being in the 1950 (at which time they were not known as RSLs).

  • The term RSL in itself with the R representing Regional is incorrect and representative of a very Westminster-bubble thinking. In reality the separate indicators designating operating in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and (originally) the Channel Islands – they were National indicators to be used in the different nations which make up the United Kingdom (as regulated for radio purposes).
  • As for the Radio Regulations, although there is not absolute requirement to use these national indicators, it is the Radio Radio Regulations which authorise their use through the overall callsign range allocated to the UK.
  • And considering other countries using such national/regional identifiers, there are many examples of this.   As an example, look at Denmark where their self governing overseas territories of the Faroe Islands (OY) and Greenland (OX) use callsigns which come directly from the Danish international callsign allocation.    Then in Spain the various regions are designated by numbers so that, for example, EA3 is Catalonia and EA6 is the Balearic Islands. Poland uses a callsign system similar to Spain.

But some will ask why the UK (or what remains of it) should give up any of its callsign allocation to an independent Scotland. The answer involves both history and politics.

Going back to 1603 sees the first steps towards creating what has become the United Kingdom when King James VI of Scotland also took on the mantle of King James I of England, but with Scotland and England remaining two separate countries with their own parliaments, own laws and minting their own currency. It was not until 1707 that the parliaments of Scotland and England came together to form the political union of the Kingdom of Great Britain (which is now the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). This was a move which was greatly disliked by the majority in Scotland, but at a time when the majority had no voting rights. The dislike of rule from another country has simmered since that time. But although decisions were made from a distance, Scotland retained a number of vestiges of it’s nationhood, including it’s legal system, it’s education system, it’s church and privileges of the Scottish Royal Burghs. The bottom line is that Scotland was one partner in the two partner union which formed the Kingdom of Great Britain.   Should Scotland withdraw from the union, it will have entitlements to it’s share of the union’s assets – which certainly can be seen as including radio callsign allocations.

Historically the United Kingdom and it’s Empire were allocated a great range of callsign blocks.  Along with G, M and 2 there are or were also V and Z allocations, the latter being associated with the Empire, later the Commonwealth.   It is these V and Z allocations which give some interesting historical precedent in relation to UK allocations.

Today there are many nations of the world which were once part of the British Empire and which are now proud and successful independent nations – but which still retain callsign allocations which were originally related to the their old British Empire allocation (i.e. callsign ranges which were once allocated to the United Kingdom) . These include countries such as Australia (VHA-VNZ & VZA-VZZ) India (VTA-VWZ), Hong Kong (VRA-VRZ), New Zealand (ZKA-ZMZ) and South Africa (ZRA-ZUZ). (Some of these countries also have other callsign blocks allocated).

So, there is a simple truth here. A shrinking “empire” no longer warrants the extensive callsign allocations it once enjoyed. And as parts of the “empire” opt out from it’s control, it is completely reasonable that parts of the callsign allocations should transfer to them. It can be argued that this is even more so the case with Scotland which is one of the founding nations of what became today’s United Kingdom – it is certainly the case that Scotland would legally be entitled to it’s fair share of UK assets (which would happen to include the very extensive UK debt!).

However, transferring callsign allocations to Australia, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. was much simpler than the process would be with Scotland. These countries already used these callsign blocks exclusively whereas Scotland’s callsigns are interwoven with the overall UK allocation.

Looking at this from a purely Amateur Radio perspective, it would be very easy to determine that the GMA-GMZ, MMA-MMZ and 2MA-2MZ blocks could simply transfer to Scotland. The same could be the case for GAA-GAZ and GSA-GSZ and potentially for some of the V and Z blocks which continue to be allocated tot he UK.   Such a process would mean minimal changes to Scottish callsigns (Repeaters, Beacons and special events would be exceptions). However, Amateur Radio cannot be taken in isolation and all other radio users require to be considered. This means, without doubt, that some radio users much endure change should Scotland become a self-determining nation.

These are matters which a Scottish Government preparing for independence from the UK would need to consider. They are significant matters to radio users, and perhaps particularly to Radio Amateurs, but relatively minor issues in the great scope of negotiations and applications which require to be considered in shaping a self determining nation.    They are matters which could become submerged in all the work required to launch a nation on the world stage – but this means there could be an opportunity for the Scottish Amateur Radio community to shape their own destiny.

There is no one body in Scotland which represents Amateur Radio – the RSGB will no longer be relevant as a body representing the hobby to government.   There is time now for a new national body representing Amateur Radio in Scotland to come together, to consider all matters which might affect Radio Amateur’s in a nation and to begin building relationships with the Scottish Government.

This year Scotland saw the reintroduction of a national radio convention and the introduction of a Scottish focused international radio contest – there is also the need for a national Amateur Radio body to be in place and prepared should the people of Scotland vote to withdraw from the UK in 2018/2019.


Scottish Amateur Radio Convention 2017

Scottish DX Contest