Leaders: SNP must take the lead in proving clarity

IF THERE is one thing businesses fear above all else, it is uncertainty.

To run a successful company you need – among other things – vision, determination, skill and entrepreneurship but, dull though it may seem, you must also be able to plan ahead. This desire for certainty is reflected in the responses to an extensive survey conducted on behalf of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce into their members’ attitude to the independence referendum. It found that more than 70 per cent of businesses expect independence would affect them. Nearly 60 per cent said they did not know enough to take a view on whether Scotland should become an independent country.

It might be argued that these findings are no great surprise. There is still more than a year to go. Between now and September 2014, it might be argued that there is plenty of time to address these issues and to explain what will happen if Scotland separates from the United Kingdom.

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Such an argument is dangerously complacent. Businesses – and, as it happens, the public in general who will vote in the referendum – like to think ahead. The Chambers are right to ask now for more information from the proponents of sovereignty.

Whether clarity will ever be forthcoming is, however, a moot point. The three areas of most concern to business are taxation, Scotland’s status in the European Union and our currency after independence. On all three there is, so far, a distinct lack of hard information.

The SNP government says it aims to set corporation tax 3 per cent below the level set by the rest of the UK (rUK) if Scotland votes Yes and if the party wins the first post-independence elections. For most businesses, that is already too many ifs. 
Result: uncertainty.

Similarly, Scotland’s status in the EU is also in doubt. There is near universal agreement that Scotland would be in the EU, but under what terms? Might there be negotiations and might conditions be set on membership, such as promising eventually to join the euro? We do not know. Result: uncertainty.

On the currency, the SNP says an independent Scotland would be part of a sterling zone with the Bank of England as a lender of last resort. This may happen, but what if an rUK government is unco-operative, or insists on imposing eurozone style conditions? Again, we cannot be sure. Result: uncertainty.

Now, it is not merely the responsibilty of the SNP to answer questions on these vital issues. Westminster and the EU have a duty to inform the debate. However, as it is proposing a huge constitutional upheaval, the SNP has a particular responsibilty to provide greater clarity. People need as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed choice. It is the responsibility of both governments to ensure this happens.

Care needed over wind farm strategy

Onshore wind farms are such a relatively new part of our landscape, it seems odd to be considering what happens when they come to the end of their lives. Given that most schemes have planning permission for 25 years, it is sensible for the government agency Scottish Natural Heritage to come up with guidelines for when the first wave of wind farms no longer generate electricity.

It is hard to predict what the energy market will look like a quarter of a century from now, or indeed how the technology for generation from wind and other firms of energy such as tidal flows and wave will have advanced. It could be that with better technology there will be less need for onshore wind farms, or that they can be renewed using far more advanced and efficient turbines. However, it is wise to think ahead.

SNH’s suggestion that instead of uprooting all of the structures and restoring the land to its original condition, it might be better for the environment to leave, at least, the concrete bases in place, has merit but is not without its critics.

Anti-wind farm campaign group Scotland Against Spin claims leaving the bases and cabling in the ground might improve the look of a site but that the pollution of the land would remain. SAS has a point, but it should consider the alternative, set out by SNH, of digging up the concrete and infilling the land – a process that could lead to even more environmental damage.

Creating wind farms, which are supposed to help our

environment by producing nonpolluting energy, has been controversial in itself. In planning for their eventual decommissioning, the principle applied must be that the least environmental damage is done.