Terry Murden: Business no place for sentimentality

Sentimentality getting in way of commercial reality. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Sentimentality getting in way of commercial reality. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Share this article
Have your say

YET more threats and warnings from business about the implications of a Yes vote in September and still we have almost four months to go before the ballot. At least business leaders have stopped hiding and are giving us a debate of substance.

The drip-drip of threats and warnings has turned into a steady stream. What everyone wants to know is whether any of them really mean what they say. Would Standard Life really move its business to England? Would Diageo, Scotland’s biggest whisky producer, suffer from currency and tax differences? And would we be denied 23 Screwfix stores from B&Q owner Kingfisher?

“Hell mend them”, is the cry from the hardline nats who believe Scotland does not need “disloyal” companies and can manage well enough on its own. Sadly, this misty-eyed sentimentalism is blinding them from commercial reality and is not helpful.

True, a lot of companies threatened to relocate over devolution and their failure to do so has only encouraged a view that their warnings now are just a lot of hot air. But maybe it was because they spread fear about the consequences of too much power being devolved that those drafting the settlement made sure they got what they wanted.

Separation from the rest of the UK is a different ball game and the air is hotter still with the likelihood that some of those businesses will go through with their warnings. I am told that Standard Life is not bluffing and we heard last week from Angus MacSween, chief executive of cloud computing firm Iomart, that he would have no hesitation in moving south.

There is nothing wrong with self-belief, nor in having an ambition to create an economically powerful nation. But harking back to golden ages is not helpful. This is a tiny nation that may have been first in the queue for the industrial revolution two centuries ago, but since then a lot of bigger boys have muscled in and now it’s they who rule the world.

Scotland has huge advantages in its natural resources and skills in key industries such as energy, food and drink and financial services. These will ensure that, whichever way the nation votes, it will continue to prosper. But other countries have these things too and, in some cases, they are more plentiful and much better. So let’s stop the chest-beating economics and face the facts.

Just as it benefits a Scottish company such as Wolfson Microelectronics to be acquired by a bigger company to help it grow and prosper, businesses opposing independence argue that Scotland can benefit from being part of a bigger economy. Every warning does not amount to a notice to “quit”. Read closely what Kingfisher boss Sir Ian Cheshire said on Friday (and see our report today on page 45) and it is clear that he is not threatening to leave Scotland. Indeed, he was in Port Glasgow to visit a new store which is planned as a model for others around the UK. That hardly sounds like a retreat.

The critical comment was in his warning to hold off on investment if there is a Yes vote. In other words, take stock of the situation. This is sensible business practice. Who knows what might emerge? He may even like what he sees if the country votes Yes.