SCOTTISH independence would be tantamount to a “management buy-out” from the UK, one of Scotland’s leading businessmen says today.
Jim McColl, the founder and chairman of Clyde Blowers and one of the country’s richest men, claims that economic policy in Britain is invested too heavily in London and the south-east of England.
He argues that what Scotland needs is the option to make its own decisions on tax and spending, suited to its own requirements.
McColl, a member of the SNP government’s Council of Economic Advisers, announced his support for independence last year, having previously said he wanted greater fiscal control to be devolved to Scotland.
But the idea of a buy-out was picked apart by other leading business figures in Scotland last night, who pointed out that, even under the SNP’s plans for independence, monetary policy and control over the currency would remain in London, meaning the country would not have full economic powers.
Director of CBI Scotland, Iain McMillan, added: “Some management buy-outs are successful. Others are not.”
McColl, who is domiciled in Monaco but bases his businesses in Scotland and has a house in Glasgow, writes in Scotland on Sunday: “We have a government responsible for economic policy whose focus is not growth in Scotland but rather London and the south-east of England. That tells me Scotland is a nation in desperate need of a well-planned and thought-through management buy-out.”
His comments come with the pro-independence campaign planning to intensify its wooing of business figures in Scotland over the coming months. It is expected to publish a “balance sheet” for the country under independence, showing spending and revenue at present levels.
The Yes Scotland team then plans to produce a “business plan” depicting Scotland as a new company seeking investment.
The drive to attract business will also include the publication of plans by the SNP government’s “Fiscal Commission”, headed by former Scottish Enterprise chief Crawford Beveridge, which is expected to set out how a new country will agree to abide by tight rules on spending.
The move comes with the UK’s triple-A credit rating under pressure as sluggish growth and high debt continue to press down on the economy.
However, the pro-UK campaign is also confident that it will be able to show growing backing among business figures who favour Scotland remaining within the Union.
McColl claims in his article that Scotland needs to learn lessons from other nations by not looking “somewhere else” for decisions to be taken on its behalf. Looking at other well-run countries, he argues: “Even when it comes to pooling sovereignty at a multilateral level, they retain the option to withdraw and have a seat at the top table.”
He adds: “They ascribe to the virtuous cycle of enterprise and compassion whereby jobs and investment create growth, helping to deliver a more equal and caring society and an educated and healthy workforce.”
But, responding to McColl’s claims, McMillan added: “The members of CBI Scotland have looked at the independence issue very carefully, and our Council’s position on behalf of members is that Scotland’s economy and its businesses will fare better with Scotland being part of the United Kingdom than Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, with all that entails.
“On Mr McColl’s point about Scotland having all the levers of economic power, in actual fact the developing proposals of the Scottish Government are that all economic levers would not come to Scotland – for example, control over currency and interest rates.”
A spokesman for the Better Together campaign added: “England is our biggest and most important trading partner. It may suit the SNP’s politics to try and pretend that England doesn’t exist, but the truth is that we sell more to the rest of the UK than we do to every other country in the world combined. We are better together because we don’t have barriers to trade.”
The battle over the economics of independence is likely to intensify ahead of the annual publication of the country’s expenditure and income statistics in March.
The pro-independence side has pointed to the figures in the last year to show that, with a full geographical share of North Sea oil, Scotland is no worse off than the UK as a whole. But the UK Treasury is also expected to publish eports on the risks awaiting an independent Scotland.