BUSINESS leaders have so little faith in SNP ministers knowing the answers on EU membership after independence that they have called on the UK government to provide clarity, it emerged yesterday.
The head of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE), which represents the country’s top banking and insurance giants, said information from the Scottish Government was “aimed at persuading” Scots to vote Yes, rather than providing conclusive answers.
SFE chief executive Owen Kelly, whose members include RBS, The Clydesdale Bank, Bank of Scotland and HSBC, admitted firms were in the dark about many issues surrounding the potential impact of independence, like regulation and who would step in to save Scottish institutions in the event of another banking crash.
“I’m not sure, as I said before, that we do think the Scottish Government will provide the authoritative voice on many of these questions,” he told the Lords economic affairs committee in Edinburgh yesterday.
“So, one thinks about the news of the past couple of days and the question of terms of membership of the European Union – now the debate there is, among many other things, about whether Scotland, if it became independent, would it inherit the UK [euro] opt-out – and that’s a big thing for our industry.
“It seems to me that the authoritative voice on that will be the member states of the European Union. I’ve put it to UK ministers that they might engineer a way of obtaining a clear steer from the authoritative voice.
“The Scottish Government, it seems to me – and I venture this on a personal basis – they are clearly wholly committed to winning a referendum. So whatever they say, one has to see it in that context – it’s aimed at persuading and I think they might agree with that.
“It’s aimed at persuading, rather than providing a conclusive, authoritative conclusion. That can only come, it seems to me, from the EU and, on some issues, the United Kingdom.
“I would probably reject the thought that we’re waiting on the Scottish Government to tell us anything – because I struggle to see how they have the authority to tell us anything.”
Finance secretary John Swinney has indicated previously that financial services firms in an independent Scotland could continue to be regulated by UK watchdogs.
Mr Kelly said: “We think it’s pretty clear under the European regulatory framework that you do need to have a financial regulator, so we now have some work in hand to try and figure out what would mean in practice.”
The Scottish Government has pledged to publish a macro-economic framework before Christmas, which is expected to explain how a “lender of last resort” which would face the burden of banking bailouts in the event of another crash. The SNP has indicated it wants to stay with the Bank of England
But Mr Kelly, who insisted SFE was neutral on the issue of independence, added: “I’m not sure that we could see their propositions as a conclusive answer to that. That can only come from some sort of discussion with the UK authorities.”
The committee had earlier heard from former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who led the call for businesses to speak up: “There’s no point keeping quiet then saying ‘I wish I’d said something’. That will not do.”