LEADING Nationalist politicians were last night expected to make a concerted attempt to convince some of Scotland’s most prominent business and cultural figures of the case for independence, The Scotsman can reveal.
Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney were all due to attend the dinner at the country’s most exclusive restaurant, Andrew Fairlie, at the five-star Gleneagles hotel.
Those present were expected to include violinist Nicola Benedetti, entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and chef Nick Nairn. Executives from leading firms such as Diageo were also due to be in attendance.
Others invited included financier Sir Angus Grossart and the singer Eddi Reader.
Mr Fairlie, who is a member of the pro-independence Yes-Scotland campaign, is understood to have paid for and organised the event. His restaurant at Gleneagles has recently been named Britain’s best for 2012.
One source said: “Andrew wanted, at his expense, to host a bunch of people to discuss the future of Scotland and the constitution. There are lots of people coming who, it is fair to say, either have a view or who are sceptical but who are all successful Scots in all walks of life.”
The careful cultivation of high-profile figures is reminiscent of the SNP’s prawn cocktail offensive prior to the 2007 and 2011 Holyrood elections when its campaign was boosted by backing from figures including businessmen Sir Brian Soutar and Sir David Murray, and actors Alan Cumming and Brian Cox.
A similar set of endorsements for independence could be vital in helping the pro-independence cause quell doubts from the voting public.
Sources say that last night’s event was the first in a series of exclusive private dinners held by the pro-independence campaign as it seeks to nurture relationships with opinion formers in Scotland.
Both campaigns in the referendum battle will be particularly keen to sign up celebrities and high-profile figures to back their cause, particularly those who have previously shown little support.
Business figures say that it is the pro-independence campaign which has so far been the more energetic in trying to find potential backers.
It comes with 18 months to go before the referendum vote in the autumn of 2014 and with the pro-independence campaign seeking to spark some momentum behind support for independence, which lags in the polls.
One corporate figure said last night: “This is the kind of event that the Better Together people should be having as well.”
Both organisers and those invited to last night’s dinner were keen to stress that their presence did not imply support for the cause.
For example, Sir Tom Hunter, who recently criticised the conduct of the Yes Scotland campaign so far, is understood to have recently met the leader of the “Better Together” campaign Alistair Darling to discuss the pro-UK case.
A spokesman for Diageo added last night: “As a corporate citizen of Scotland, Diageo regularly attends events to engage with and understand key public policy debates and we do so without fear or favour. We were invited to attend this event and accepted in that spirit.”
The battle to convince influential figures within Scottish public life is now likely to intensify over the coming months, with the business community certain to be particularly key.
One business source said yesterday that while firms were not likely to get involved in the “emotional debate” around independence, there were “legitimate questions” they still wanted answering by the pro-independence campaign.
Mr Fairlie announced his support for independence when he joined the board of the Yes Scotland campaign last year.
Ranked as the country’s leading chef, he is the country’s only two-star Michelin cook.