NICOLA Sturgeon has urged businesses to “focus less on what we disagree on” in the wake of the independence referendum.
Delivering her first speech as First Minister outside of the Scottish Parliament, she called on business leaders in Glasgow yesterday to find “common ground”.
Ahead of September’s referendum, a number of Scotland’s major employers, including Standard Life and Royal Bank of Scotland, said they had significant concerns about the prospect of Scotland becoming independent – a sentiment echoed by business groups such as the CBI.
Ms Sturgeon said: “To be frank, I know that there are many of you here today who advocated a No vote in the referendum. I want you to know that I respect that.
“So in the months ahead, I want us to focus less on what we disagree on and much more on finding the common ground between us as we consider how to drive the prosperity and competitiveness of our country.”
She acknowledged that London brings benefits as well as significant challenges to Scotland’s economy, saying that the UK capital has a “centrifugal pull” on talent, investment and business from around the world.
“A key part of this debate will always be about how we compete with London,” she said. “In looking at that we need to recognise both the economic value of London and the benefits to our business and economy that come from our proximity to it, as well as the significant challenges it poses.”
She insisted she wants to work with business to address inequality and create a society where the benefits of economic growth are shared more equally.
“Equality and prosperity shouldn’t be seen as enemies of each other, but as partners,” she said. “One reinforces the other.
“We believe – in common with many economists across the world – that equality and cohesion are good for growth, as well as good for individuals.”
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said she welcomed the First Minister’s “open, working relationship” with the Scottish business community.
“The First Minister specifically focused her attention towards ensuring that Scottish business not only has a competitive environment to work in, but [one which is] world-leading.
“However, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. We need to see policies emerging which match what business needs to enable us to continue to compete, create jobs and increase our investment. My plea is that business is actively engaged at the ideas stage so that we can truly influence and work in an effective partnership with the government. All too often, business is at the end of the government cycle when it is often too late to make any substantive changes in key areas. Perhaps now is the opportunity to change that culture.”
Scottish Conservative enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser MSP said: “We predicted before Nicola Sturgeon came into office that she would be Scotland’s most left-wing First Minister. The scorecard so far is a home-buyers tax on aspiration, a proposed income tax hike and a ridiculous land tax which she unveiled last week.
“Whatever the warm words to business, that adds up to a socialist agenda which sets a course back to the 1970s.”
Ms Sturgeon also said she wanted to “strengthen” the Scottish Government’s council of economic advisers, adding that she had appointed former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns to the group, alongside existing members Nobel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz and chairman Crawford Beveridge.
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