A LEADING industrialist yesterday claimed that an independent Scotland’s civil service would cost £700 million a year – the equivalent of £140 for each individual living north of the Border.
The claim was made by Rupert Soames of the power specialists Aggreko, when he spoke at yesterday’s Scotsman conference on “The Economics of Independence”.
Mr Soames, the chief executive of the Glasgow-headquartered company, claimed that independence would create a mountain of unnecessary bureaucracy that would harm businesses.
During a lively session, Mr Soames argued against independence while another prominent business figure, Jim McColl, the chairman and chief executive of Clyde Blowers, put the case for a Yes vote.
Mr McColl criticised the “scaremongering” of the Better Together campaign and insisted that even if Scotland voted Yes the country would remain within the United Kingdom.
Opening a discussion titled “What would independence mean for business?”, Mr Soames expressed his concern that the Scottish referendum of 2014 came at a bad time, given David Cameron’s plans for a 2017 EU referendum.
“The idea that Scotland could be negotiating its exit from the United Kingdom at the same time as the UK is negotiating terms for continued membership of the EU is one that is going to present significant challenges to the interests of both the UK and Scotland. It will need statesmanship of the highest and most grown-up order to ensure that we don’t have a car smash,” Mr Soames said.
Mr Soames, the brother of the Tory MP Nicholas Soames and the grandson of the wartime prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, said he was concerned by the cost of setting up separate Scottish bodies to do work currently carried out on a UK-wide basis.
He said there would have to be a “massive expansion of the headcount and budget of the Scottish civil service”.
Using the Republic of Ireland as a model, Mr Soames did a “back of a fag packet” calculation to estimate the cost of a separate Scottish civil service.
“The point is not that it can’t be done. Countries such as Ireland do it, and do it well,” he said. “But it comes at a cost. In 2012, there were 46,000 people employed in the civil service in Scotland but, of these, 29,400 worked in UK-wide government departments and only 16,000 in the devolved administration.
“If we look at Ireland again, in 2008, there were 37,000 full-time equivalent people employed in the Irish civil service. I can think of no reason that Scotland would need many fewer.
“So doing some quick sums I get to an additional cost of an independent Scotland’s civil service – just for the administration part – of around £700 million a year, which is about £140 for every man, woman and child in Scotland.”
He added: “This is just in administration – the fixed cost of being independent before they start spending money.”
As he criticised the “complexity and cost” of different “flavours” of EU regulation, Mr Soames contrasted the ease with which Scottish companies did business in England with the extra paperwork his company had experienced across the France/Belgium border.
Making the case for a Yes vote, Mr McColl argued that the status quo was “not good enough”. He said independence would give people “clarity and certainty” and the parliament the power to develop economic policies to tackle economic growth, long-term unemployment and welfare.
Mr McColl said: “The Yes vote is the only choice that will result in more powers. This is not about a vote for the SNP, it is about saying yes to more powers for the Scottish Parliament to give the Scottish people a chance for a better future.”
The Clyde Blowers chief executive said Scots should not be fooled by the “mischievous scaremongering” that a Yes vote was for an “independent parliament within the UK”.
He added: “Great Britain is the island shared by Scotland, England and Wales. We will still be part of Great Britain. Scotland can remain proud to continue its partnership with the rest of the UK, the barriers that have scarily been put up are false.
“The only real difference after a Yes vote is that the Scottish Government will have more control over the policies that affect the well-being of the Scottish people.”