SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: David Cameron has accused the Scottish Government of using “threats and warnings” to discourage business leaders from declaring their support for the UK.
Ahead of a speech in Scotland today, the Prime Minister said Alex Salmond’s administration was intimidating businesses into staying silent during the independence referendum campaign.
The claims made by Mr Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday were accompanied by a plea for business leaders to speak out against independence.
That call will be echoed today when Mr Cameron comes north of the Border to urge the “silent majority” to make their views “ring out across the land”.
Yesterday the Prime Minister told MPs that “a huge amount of pressure is put on businesses by the Scottish Government with all sorts of threats and warnings if they speak out and say what they believe is the truth”.
Mr Cameron said: “I come across business leader after business leader, large and small, in Scotland that want to keep our UK together, who think it would be crazy to have border controls, different currencies and split up our successful UK.
“I would urge them to speak out, talk with their workforces about the strength of our UK and vote to keep it together.”
He was responding to a question from Labour’s Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP, Jim Sheridan, who insisted employers have a “moral responsibility” to inform employees of any consequences of separation.
Last night Downing Street refused to identify which business leaders Mr Cameron was referring to and insisted it “is up to them” to speak out.
Later, Number 10 sources pointed to an article carried in The Scotsman by former Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Gavin Hewitt on the referendum.
Mr Hewitt wrote: “Challenges to the Scottish Government’s views on independence are regrettably rebuffed too often by dismissal of the messenger, an assertion that all will be well and accusations of ‘bluff and bluster’.
“Sometimes it goes as far as intimidating calls from senior SNP members. That is not a good basis on which the electorate should decide Scotland’s future.”
The Prime Minister’s remarks were roundly rejected by Business for Scotland, the organisation which represents business figures in favour of a Yes vote.
Chief executive Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp said: “David Cameron is repeating the same old tired UK line about businesses being afraid to speak up but business people across Scotland are already speaking up and don’t feel at all intimidated.
“The 2,200 Business for Scotland members are speaking at public meetings, taking part in debates, engaging on Facebook and Twitter, and meeting people face to face. They’re out there speaking about what they believe in – the opportunities that independence will bring.”
Mr MacIntyre-Kemp added: “The Prime Minister might be having difficulty getting businesses to speak up for No because the message they’re trying to sell is simply not credible.”
Asked about Mr Cameron’s remarks at a briefing yesterday, the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael identified the “abuse on the likes of JK Rowling and a company like Barrhead Travel” in a bid to back up the intimidation claims.
Rowling was subjected to a torrent of online abuse after declaring her preference for a No vote, while the founder of Barrhead Travel, Bill Munro, received similar treatment online after sending a memo to staff warning that independence would be a “complete disaster”.
Mr Carmichael said: “In these circumstances, you can understand why people think twice.
“This is supposed to be an exercise in democracy and if people feel they can’t have their say in a democratic exercise then it risks going badly wrong.”
When he arrives in Scotland today, Mr Cameron’s appeal to the “silent majority” will be accompanied by him saying that Scots can be British too. “We’ve heard the noise of the nationalist few, but now it is time for the voices of the silent majority to be heard – the silent majority who feel happy being part of the UK; the silent majority who don’t want the risks of going it alone; the silent majority who worry about what separation would mean for their children and grandchildren,” Mr Cameron will say.
“With 77 days to go, we need the voices of the many to ring out across the land; for each one to realise that they are not alone because there are millions just like them.
“And this is how we rouse them to find their voice. We tell them, ‘We’ve achieved so much together. We’re safer together. We’re better off together. We’ve got the best of both worlds together’.”
Last night, Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, said: “David Cameron is seriously out of touch if he thinks there is a silent majority in Scotland in favour of the Tories and their austerity agenda.
“The reality is, there is a very vocal majority against David Cameron governing Scotland, with just a single Tory MP here.”