SCOTTISH Secretary Alistair Carmichael has made an impassioned appeal to the business community in Scotland to get “its voice heard” in the referendum debate “before it is too late” at a reception in London.
It came as the Scottish Secretary also issued a warning to the other pro-UK parties that they all need to “offer a vision of what it means to remain part of the UK” in a plea for an agreed package on the next stage of devolution.
His appeal to businesses to speak out came at a CBI Scotland event in the Scotland Office in Whitehall reflecting growing concerns in the No camp over the way businesses and the organisations which represent them are staying out of the referendum debate despite privately opposing independence.
Fears have already been raised in evidence from former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West and others to the defence and Scottish affairs select committees in the Commons that businesses are “afraid” of the consequences of coming out for the UK.
So far only CBI Scotland, which is in favour of staying in the UK, has made its stance known while the Institute of Directors and Federation of Small Businesses along with major companies have remained silent.
And along with Mr Carmichael’s appeal the reception also heard veiled criticism of organisations which have tried to stay out of the debate by CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan.
In his speech, Mr McMillan spoke with pride of the CBI’s outspoken view that “Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are better together”.
He pointedly added: “Even if some others don’t won’t come out and say it we will not tire of stating our position and go on saying it”.
Speaking to the audience of leading business figures, Mr Carmichael echoed Mr McMillan’s sentiments.
He said: “Your voices must be heard in this debate.
“Politicians are not going to win this debate alone. If it is left to politicians I fear the prospects are bleak.”
He went on: “We all have a voice. Please don’t leave it until when you think you need to speak out because by then it might be too late.”
Mr Carmichael’s comments come amid growing doubts over the effectiveness of former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling as the leader of the Better Together campaign and calls from the Tories for education secretary Michael Gove to take his place.
There are also worries that while still polling comfortably ahead of the Yes camp there are still a significant number of “don’t knows” who could swing the result.
Mr Carmichael has already criticised the “lack of wit and passion” in the No campaign and it is understood he thinks that undecided voters can be swayed by a positive vision for devolution.
So far the Lib Dems have come up with a Home Rule proposal while Labour and the Tories have groups working on their proposals.
Addressing politicians and business leaders in Dover House, Mr Carmichael warned that the No camp needed a vision.
He said: “We can claim the future as well as anybody else.”