Sheila Low: Business leaders must speak up before SNP lead us over cliff edge of independence

This general election, which Scottish voters think is all about Brexit, is actually about one thing for the SNP: independence. Nicola Sturgeon's one aim is to drag Scotland out of the UK. Picture:  Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
This general election, which Scottish voters think is all about Brexit, is actually about one thing for the SNP: independence. Nicola Sturgeon's one aim is to drag Scotland out of the UK. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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To paraphrase Jane Austen, one of literature’s most acute observers of human behaviour, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that an exhausted voter must be in want of a clear direction.

Such may be the case for UK voters fixated solely on Brexit but alas, for voters in Scotland, that’s simply not the case – the behaviour of the First Minister is a clear indicator of the direction that she and her party will drag the agenda here in Scotland by hook or by crook.

Sheila Low, Scottish Business UK

Sheila Low, Scottish Business UK

The glee with which her MPs voted for this December’s general election is the first sign of what lies ahead in 2020. Granted, while the results in the rest of the UK are far from certain, and both the Conservatives and Labour go into the campaign with a justifiable degree of trepidation, the SNP is cock-a-hoop.

Having tasted success in 2015 with 56 seats, the nationalists think they have what it takes to make good on the subsequent reversals of 2017 by exploiting Scottish voters’ discontent over Brexit at the Tories’ expense.

There are different factors at play this year, which include the fact that (whisper it) not everyone in Scotland actually wants to stay in the EU. The SNP’s MPs in Westminster have blocked Brexit at every turn, showing yet again that they only recognise referendum results that suit their cause.

All of which is to point out the simple fact that this general election, which Scottish voters think is all about Brexit, austerity and the NHS, is actually about one thing for the SNP: independence. Above all, we must remember that the SNP has – and has only ever had – one aim: to drag Scotland out of the UK.

So for better or worse we must be prepared for a debate.

For the great majority of business leaders, the endless deliberation over Brexit has been more than enough to temper appetites for any new bout of constitutional upheaval. They thought that the whole matter of independence had been decided in 2014 and they’ve long since had enough.

Indeed, the arguments that the majority of people in business aligned with in 2014 still stand. We trade four times as much with the rest of the UK as we do with the EU, so irrespective of your views on Brexit, it doesn’t make good business sense to introduce unnecessary barriers within the UK single market.

This and other inherent truths fatally undermined attempts to flesh out a new economic prospectus for independence by the SNP’s Growth Commission in 2018. Indeed, like the economic proposals in the 2014 White Paper before it, the Commission’s output was far from convincing in the eyes not just of business leaders but many in the SNP’s own rank and file membership.

It certainly resulted in far more questions than convincing answers – many of which the SNP itself has struggled to reconcile in the intervening period.

Currency? We still don’t have any proposals that would avoid very significant disruption for the economy. This is for the simple reason that staying in a Sterling Union as part of the UK is so transparently the best approach that trite alternatives don’t and won’t exist.

A new border with the rest of the UK? Okay, Brexit is an unwelcome prospect for many exporting businesses, but with a far higher share of the market for exports from Scotland, shutting ourselves off from England would be like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Public services and debt? There is still nothing in the SNP’s prospectus to convincingly alleviate a potentially crippling spending deficit that would in fact preclude an independent Scotland from accession to membership of the EU under its own fiscal prudence rules.

What I fear most however is that under the cover of discontent over Brexit, the SNP simply hopes that proper questions about these subjects won’t be asked and that voters are too tired by nearly a decade of constitutional wrangling to scrutinise them too closely. If they do, they will resort to cries of ‘project fear’ as before.

We are in danger of sleepwalking into a trap of the SNP’s making and it is incumbent on business leaders to speak up. SBUK will be working hard to facilitate the proper debate that’s needed. I would urge you to join us and lend you views and support.

Sheila Low, Scottish Business UK