Brian Wilson: Forget the falsehoods – face the facts

Sir Brian Souter, whose firm's behaviour was branded 'deplorable', is a poster boy for SNP economic policies. Picture: Newscast
Sir Brian Souter, whose firm's behaviour was branded 'deplorable', is a poster boy for SNP economic policies. Picture: Newscast
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WE’VE had more bogus claims from the Yes camp, but the truth is our industry has the best of both worlds, writes Brian Wilson

It IS quite hard to be startled by false claims from the Nationalists as the race to the wire continues. Having set the bar high with wretched untruths about cancer treatment in the NHS south of the Border, they need to come up with something spectacular in order to disturb one’s cornflakes.

Bunnets off, then, to Mr Sandy Adam, a board member of the grandly titled Business for Scotland group, who took to the airwaves with the brazen claim on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Scottish businesses are charged for the services of UK embassies around the world, while English ones are not.

A slightly incredulous Evan Davis asked Mr Adam if he was sure that was true. Yes, yes, he insisted, he was absolutely certain it was true. So here was the official Nationalist rebuttal of an argument which Davis had advanced – that maybe Scotland benefits as part of the UK from having commercial representation in every country of the world.

It was, of course, a complete and utter fabrication. Scottish companies and organisations are treated in exactly the same way as their counterparts from every other part of the UK. Innumerable Scottish exporters representing hundreds of thousands of jobs can testify to benefits from that support network and, when need arises in even the remotest places, our consular services.

As in so many ways, Scotland has the best of both worlds. We have an effective trade promotion organisation, Scottish Development International, which operates in a limited number of markets and sectors. And we have the UK’s global presence, which no small state could replicate. Most of the time, they provide a joined-up service which Mr Adam and his colleagues wish to dismantle, supported by the false allegation that we are wickedly discriminated against because we are Scottish.

Mr Adam is a housebuilder based in Moray, which is very commendable and I wish him well. Houses in Moray would still be required post-independence. But like almost all the 200 signatories to the Business for Scotland round-robin in support of independence, he is not an exporter. Presumably he was just handed the tale of discrimination and happily regurgitated it.

The Nationalists cobbled together their remarkably unimpressive list of businesses at short notice in order to establish “equivalence” with the declaration by major Scottish companies that the case for independence has not been made, particularly on issues such as currency and EU membership. For serious employers, these are no mere abstractions that can be blustered away. They are crucial to their presence in Scotland and their ability to employ substantial numbers.

Nobody doubts that Isle of Skye Fudge Company could continue to dispense fudge in an independent Scotland or that the Clunie Guest House would still usher in guests, to name but two of the Business for Scotland signatories. But to pretend that these are engines of the Scottish economy, representing any significant levels of employment or job security, is farcical.

The list has been referred to as “Souter and the 200 dwarves”. This is unfair to tax exile Jim McColl and banker Sir George Mathewson, who effused over Mrs Thatcher and laid hands upon Fred Goodwin as heir and successor at RBS. They are doubtless looking forward to the lower rate of corporation tax which is the only confirmed fiscal building block in the “more socially just” Scotland we are promised.

But, above all, there is Sir Brian Souter, chairman of the Stagecoach group of companies. And therein lies a great deal of history. Twenty-odd years ago, I sat on a House of Commons committee which dealt with the Scottish Transport Bill, ushering in privatisation of publicly owned bus companies as well as deregulation of local markets. Waiting in the wings were Stagecoach.

In other circumstances, it was an issue on which the SNP would have waxed indignant – a right-wing Tory policy inflicted on indignant Scottish communities. But in this case, they were silent. Stagecoach had a standard modus operandi. They flooded city centres and towns with buses and ran them for free until the local competition – decent Scottish companies – went to the wall. Then they moved on to the next place.

Having wiped out most of the competition in Scotland, they drove south and followed the same plan. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission described their behaviour as “predatory, deplorable and against the public interest”, which Souter might have taken as a compliment. The ruthlessness of their bus business funded their eager participation in rail privatisation. And all the time, Souter kept on backing the silent, uncritical SNP.

Now the three poster boys for the Nationalist view of Scotland’s economic future are a tax exile, a Tory banker and the arch-exploiter of Thatcherite privatisation. Some future. Some society. Our biggest market would be converted into our biggest competitor. Our workers would be victims of a race to the bottom as Newcastle and Liverpool demanded even lower tax rates to stop job migration. Messrs McColl, Mathewson and Souter would cheer from afar.

Are there really people who style themselves as being of “the left” who see this as some kind of glorious, hopeful future? Remarkably, there are. But, as Archie Macpherson pointed out this week in his splendid Dundee speech, it is really a retreat into parochialism – the self-delusion that what they cannot achieve in the UK will somehow come good in Scotland. While also, of course, turning their backs on folk with exactly the same interests and problems in Newcastle and Liverpool, Corby and London.

We sell twice as much to the rest of the UK as we do to the rest of the world. Companies such as Standard Life, employing thousands, have nine-tenths of their customers in England. Major manufacturing companies are part of UK supply chains. We share an economy that has been integrated, without borders, over centuries.

And now we are seriously thinking of creating separate states without even knowing what currency we would use or on what terms.

The Nationalists can throw as many eggs as they like and rip down any poster that says “No Thanks”. But it is too late in the day for either intimidation or prudence to induce silence. Every individual in Scotland has a right to know the exact implications for themselves and their families. Otherwise, these purveyors of false claims and bogus assertions will be only too anxious to fill the vacuum.

Sanity should not be driven off the road.