As Valentine’s Day passes and couples across the land take brief respite from dismal Brexit politics with the cosy escapism of romantic dinners, red roses and hearts on cards, spare a thought for those whose only true passion is the misery of constitutional strife.
Annoyingly for them, for the majority of people and businesses in Scotland, the prospect of a divisive political campaign that again pitches Scot against Scot over the future of our economy, society and friendships is certainly neither a romantic nor rosy prospect.
As many a Valentine couple finds out with regret, not all love affairs end up being happy ever after. For those that make it through the stages of dating to love, house-buying and kids, cracks will inevitably appear over time and ultimately the cost of a divorce is almost always more expensive and emotionally draining than anticipated. Sometimes divorce is inevitable but it’s certainly not something that many sane couples would relish.
Not so the SNP, who would gleefully drag us all through the divorce courts to rip us apart from the most successful union of all time, our most important trading partner, and pull us apart from the rest of our UK family.
One only needs to look at the Brexit negotiations to see the costly and painful process of a breakup and how fragile an economy can be in the face of such uncertainty. With the additional prospect of significant capital flight, a required huge round of fiscal austerity, and an unknown and untested currency, the pain of Brexit will likely seem like a walk in the park. The majority of the voting public understood that threat in 2014 and would be even more aware of it today.
In an economic coupling, the ‘in sickness and in health’ part works well within a much larger economic area to spread out any peaks and troughs. The City and Regional deals also illustrate how working together, showing trust, commitment and long term partnership can work. Similarly, the so called Union dividend that the Barnett formula brings would be lost in a messy separation.
Like most divorces, it is often the younger generation that come off worst. Work hard at school, achieve your potential, meet your partner and then decide where to settle. I am sure that almost everyone you asked who has lived in Scotland over the last couple of decades would tell you this is where they want to be. But if you had to make the call today with the threat of the neverendum hanging over us and higher rates of taxation than in the rest of the UK, would that choice be so clear-cut?
Equally relevant is potential inward investment into Scotland, a key source of new jobs and a driver of the economy. In an increasing global world, competition is fierce and Brexit clearly illustrates how political uncertainty can make investors wary of commitment – however much you charm them with overseas trade missions. Post-Brexit referendum, our political decision-making model has become a policy black hole as all other matters get sidelined in favour of debate around a single constitutional issue. If a 40-year union is this hard to unravel, imagine how much more difficult it would be to disentangle centuries of closer unity between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Unlike Brexit we also have the prospect of guaranteed fiscal austerity, unknown transition costs, the creation of new currency alternatives and the prospect of a fledgling government with a distinctly chequered delivery under its current devolved remit.
What business wants out of its relationship with the Scottish Government is stability, certainty, fiscal clarity and fiscal parity with the rest of the UK. The rest of the UK is our largest export market by far, at 61 per cent. Anything that threatens this would be madness. This relationship is a ‘keeper’, as they say.
So we know what we want and it is not a divorce. We want the Scottish Government and civil servants focused on making Scotland even better, with an end to grandstanding political referendum threats in the media for strategic political ends. Focus attention on telling the world what a great place this is to live, work and play. Come and join us, invest in us, experience the warmth of our welcome. Let’s get the basics right: education, skills, productivity, infrastructure, and connectivity.
We believe that Scottish businesses have limited appetite for more political energy being wasted on independence. Voters already made it clear in 2014 that the price for such endeavours was too high. Yet the Scottish Government remains fixated on divorce. Sadly, this merely highlights their own divorce from reality.
Sheila Low, Scottish Business UK.