Business leaders in Scotland have appealed for stability after the prospect of second referendum independence was raised by Nicola Sturgeon.
A repeat of the “disruption” some firms suffered in the last referendum is unlikely to be welcomed, they said, while financial leaders warned that the “uncertainties” which emerged during the independence referendum campaign had not gone away.
Former first minister Alex Salmond ramped up the prospect of another referendum when he said a second vote will happen “much closer and much faster” then expected.
Ms Sturgeon revealed that the SNP’s manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election will include provisions for a second vote on Scotland’s place in the UK.
Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Business and Scottish Financial Enterprise were among those who yesterday said businesses wanted stability.
But the prospect of a referendum on the UK’s place in Europe is causing just as much uncertainty for firms, MPs on the Commons Scottish affairs committee were told as they met in Edinburgh yesterday.
Garry Clark, of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, told MPs that the organisation is conscious of “potential changes” to the UK or Scotland’s constitutional structure.
He told MPs: “We’ve gone through an independence referendum just under a year ago and clearly that was a long, drawn-out process for the UK and Scotland and we set out our views on the issues surrounding that debate. We’re also facing a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union and we’re about to publish some research on that.
“Clearly business doesn’t like uncertainty, we all know that. We’ve been faced with a great deal of it recently, whether it’s been the independence referendum last year, the general election this year, the Scottish elections next year, the European referendum. So it is a function of how we’ve operated over the past few years. I think we want to ensure that we’ve as much stability as possible, to get on with doing the job of growing the economy.”
Ross Martin, of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), said the greatest concern among its members was over the EU referendum.
Owen Kelly, chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise, said the contingency plans of businesses were “well discussed and publicised” during last year’s campaign. “The body of knowledge about these consequences and the scale of the uncertainties that would be generated by another referendum remains,” he added.
Colin Borland, of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland, said there were a “variety of opinions” among businesses over independence.
But he added: “Some of our members reported that the independence referendum had a disruptive impact, especially on investment decisions; therefore a significant proportion of firms might not welcome another vote on the matter.
“With all eyes on next year’s Scottish Parliament election and likely referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU, Scottish firms already have a number of big political choices to make.”
Ms Sturgeon said at the weekend that the “timescale and circumstances” for a second referendum will be set out in the SNP manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election.
Senior Nationalists say the prospect of Scots feeling they have been short-changed in the post-referendum Smith Commission deal on more powers for Holyrood could trigger another vote.
Another factor would be if the UK votes to leave the EU, while Scotland backs staying in.
Mr Salmond warned yesterday that these issues as well as the ongoing austerity agenda at Westminster could accelerate another referendum.
“All these influences are bringing another referendum much closer and much faster. That much is now known. The real issue for this now-energised and politicised nation is how we handle that debate and mould our future.”