Business leaders ‘muzzled’ by referendum threat

Chuka Umunna has been approached by Scottish business people told not to back No vote. Photograph: Rex
Chuka Umunna has been approached by Scottish business people told not to back No vote. Photograph: Rex
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SHADOW Business secretary Chuka Umunna has claimed that Scottish business leaders are being “muzzled” by supporters of independence with warnings from Nationalists of “consequences” in an independent Scotland.

Umunna, who is widely viewed as UK Labour’s rising star and tipped as a future ­party leader, made the claim during a visit to Scotland by Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet.

He said he had been approached by Scottish business people who had told him they had been warned not to publicly back a No vote in the independence referendum on 18 September.

Umunna, speaking to Scotland on Sunday after talks with the Scottish Council for Development & Industry (SCDI) in Glasgow on Friday, said business people had told him they had received “aggressive” approaches from the Yes campaign.

His claims came after the decision by the CBI to reverse its decision to back a No vote and request that its registration with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of Better Together be annulled.

Pro-independence group Business for Scotland has accused the CBI of behaving “disingenuously”, as a number of top public bodies such as Scottish Enterprise as well as leading universities quit the body over the registration.

Umunna said that some business leaders now feared negative consequences for their firms in an independent Scotland if they spoke out against the Yes campaign. “What I’ve found most alarming is that a number of business people have told me in private that they are afraid to speak up in support of the Union because they’ve been told by people in the Yes campaign that there will be consequences. Seeking to muzzle people in this ­crucial national debate is very alarming,” he said.

“I’ve noticed the aggressive way the independence campaign responds to those in business who want to speak up in favour of the Union.”

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, chief executive of Business for Scotland, dismissed Umunna’s claims as “desperation”. He said: “I’m aware of many business people who actually support independence who feel as though they are in danger of consequences from the Westminster Government if they express support for a Yes vote. I have never heard of business people being pressured not to speak out against independence. These claims are desperation after the CBI intervention backfired so horrendously.”

Umunna went on to dismiss suggestions that Miliband’s leadership was less pro-business than Tony Blair’s New Labour as he highlighted plans to offer a package of financial support for small firms as well as the creation of a network of investment banks.

Umunna said: “That’s not the case, as there are a whole range of things we are doing in terms of policy that are relentlessly pro-enterprise.

“Labour is pro-business. You can’t be anything other than pro-business. We’re as absolutely pro-business now as we were in the 1990s.”

The shadow business secretary went on to launch an attack on Alex Salmond’s plan to slash corporation tax in an independent Scotland as he suggested the SNP leader opposed tax rises for top earners.

Umunna said: “Business craves certainty above all else and the prospect of the break-up of Britain and the fear of an exit from the EU is one of the biggest fears among business people.

“The fear that the Union with the rest of the UK might end is the biggest worry for a lot of businesses. A race to the bottom is not the way forward. Alex Salmond doesn’t support a more progressive tax system and has failed to promise that a reversal of the tax cut for millionaires from the Tories.”