Comment: You may ask yourself - once in a lifetime?

Martin Flanagan
Martin Flanagan
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IS STEWART Hosie, the Scottish National Party’s Treasury spokesman in Westminster, acting as an outrider for the party in threatening the possibility of a fresh referendum to break up the UK unless David ­Cameron agrees to devolve more powers to Holyrood?

One wonders. Hosie’s latest ­comments put the subject of a new vote on independence into the political mood music while still allowing Scotland’s First Minister Nicola ­Sturgeon to distance herself at this stage from calling for a new ballot, thereby currently avoiding the charge that the SNP is backtracking on its promise last September that the last referendum was a “once-in-a-generation vote”.

If that is the case, one admires the political astuteness, but it does nothing to ease the nervousness of business both north and south of the Border.

A large part of the corporate world sighed with almost audible relief last year when the pro-independence cause lost the vote by 55 to 45 per cent, seemingly putting its fears to bed after then–SNP leader Alex Salmond had also said it was a “once in a lifetime” decision by the Scottish people.

Not definitively, it now seems. The truth is, Westminster has never really got over “winning” last year’s referendum. The Tories were never going to make any gains in Scotland in the UK election in May, and Labour was all but wiped out. It was a landscape-changing event.

If this is putting an issue to bed, it would be interesting to see one that was actually live and fluid. There now looks to be a link, tantalisingly ambiguous, being made by the SNP of the degree of devolution with another independence vote – a new mood, if not facts, on the ground.

Business will take some comfort from Sturgeon’s statement that the SNP would only put plans for another plebiscite in an election manifesto if there was “a material change in [Scotland’s] circumstances”.

But given the business lobby’s even greater concern about the UK voting to quit the European Union in a ­referendum before end-2017, even the suggestion of choreographed “wriggle room” for the SNP on another Scottish vote unnerves many.

The SNP’s sentences are parsed for meaning, a minor Holyrood version of Kremlinology-deciphering taking hold. Of course, the SNP is perfectly entitled to play its political cards at Westminster as it sees fit and is not doing a bad job, currently.

However, conversely, if nothing else it seems to have galvanised the pro-EU business lobby into stating the case for remaining in far earlier than was the case in the Scottish referendum.

The CBI and others have hit the ground running on the benefits to the UK of remaining part of the EU.

And, ironically, if Britain does vote to stay in, it would give one less ­“material change” possibility for the SNP to seek an early new referendum.

Majestic’s new boss looks online for growth

The rise in like-for-like sales but fall in profits at Majestic Wine shows the pressure the retailer is under in a competitive sector.

New boss Rowan Gormley is likely to improve Majestic’s online offer given that he joined after it bought online rival Naked Wines, the company he founded, earlier this year.

A hint of where the investment will go to try to turn around Majestic’s fortunes is that Gormley has said he is scaling back his predecessor Steve Lewis’s plans to open well over 100 new stores to a more modest 20 to 30 that can deliver better returns.