Stuart Mackinnon: Did indyref improve our view of Europe?

Stuart Mackinnon of FSB Scotland
Stuart Mackinnon of FSB Scotland
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Bonjour, Guten Tag, Olá, Hej and Hallo from the part of the UK which, according to the FSB’s latest report, is the most enthusiastic about continued membership of the EU.

Nearly 60 per cent of Scottish small business owners would vote to stay in the EU if the vote was tomorrow, with a quarter inclined towards voting to leave and just over one in ten as yet undecided.

That’s a big gap – and a lot wider than the 47/41 split that the research found across the rest of the UK as a whole. Other polls from, ahem, other business membership organisations point to a similar trend.

Some of this must be down to the fact that we spent the two-and-a-half years of the independence referendum campaign arguing about whether or not a Yes vote would see us thrown out of the EU.

While they may have disagreed on almost everything else, the assumption underlying both sides of that particular debate was that it would be bad for business if we left the EU. For that reason, perhaps, Scottish firms are more likely to believe that the EU is beneficial for the UK, the Scottish economy and their local area than their counterparts in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Another reason may lie in the shape of the Scottish economy.

Tourism contributes at least 10 per cent of our GDP and employs over 186,000 people. One in four FSB members in Scotland is in that sector. The research revealed that preserving the free movement of people was a key concern for those in tourism – not just in the interests of keeping visitor numbers up, but because they rely on staff from elsewhere in the EU.

Similarly, the study shows that importers and exporters show much more support for the EU than business owners that only trade locally.

But none of this means the result is a foregone conclusion. We don’t know when the vote will be, or even what deal we’ll be voting on.

As they did with the Scottish independence referendum, many small firms feel they need reliable impartial information about what an “In” or “Out” vote will mean for their business, and their lives more generally. Our approach will reflect the one we took during the independence referendum: ensuring that our members have the information they need to make the decision which is right for them and their business.

Stuart Mackinnon is senior public affairs advisor at the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland