Scots small business doubts over independence

A survey has revealed that small business owners are apprehensive about Scottish independence. Picture: Neil Hanna
A survey has revealed that small business owners are apprehensive about Scottish independence. Picture: Neil Hanna
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ALMOST half of small business owners in Scotland think independence would be bad for their company, a new survey has revealed.

The research found 48 per cent believed a Yes vote would be a negative step for their firm, while 37 per cent of the 1,000 Scottish small business owners surveyed said leaving the UK would be a positive move for their company.

When asked what issues concerned them about an independent Scotland, taxation, possible new regulations, currency and EU membership were among those mentioned most often.

The research, carried out by the small business network Ingenious Britain, comes amid furious clashes between the Scottish Government and Westminster over currency after an unnamed UK minister said Scotland would be allowed to share the pound after independence.

More than 90 per cent of small business owners have already decided how they will vote in the 18 September referendum, according to the survey.

Ingenious Britain chief executive Marlon Wolff said: “There is an indication coming through our research that a sizeable proportion of small business owners have sufficient reservations about the potential negative issues and challenges independence might present to be seriously questioning whether it is really in the interests of their company.

“However, it is going to be a close decision, with many reacting against what they perceive to be status quo in which their needs as Scottish businesses are not reflected or taken into account.”

Four out of ten (41 per cent) of those questioned feel independence may make it less likely for them to be able to invest in growing their business, while 36 per cent feel leaving the UK would make it more likely they could do this.

Tessa Hartmann of Hartmann Media, a PR and communications company working in the fashion sector, said “uncertainty” surrounding the referendum and any future currency was already having a negative impact on the sector and affecting exports.

She said: “Scotland’s long heritage in fashion and textiles has thrived as part of Brand Britain. Remove Scotland from the UK and many of our young designers and fashion companies would become ineligible for much of the crucial support and profile they currently receive from the likes of London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council.”

Michelle Thomson, director of the pro-independence business and economic policy network Business for Scotland, said support for independence was growing in the business community.

She said: “Day in, day out Business for Scotland is welcoming new members, business owners who see what an independent Scotland could mean for them.

“Using the powers of devolution, Scotland has the most competitive business environment in the UK thanks to a range of measures, like the small business bonus scheme, which mean we are next only to London in terms of securing overseas investment and jobs, due to the fantastic efforts of Scottish Development International.”

Just over a third (37 per cent) of small business owners said they had not had enough details from the two campaigns to allow them to make an informed decision about the impact independence would have on them.

Rory Haigh, who owns Optimum Underfloor Heating in Inverness, said Scotland has different social and economic needs to the south of England. He said: “We are a small country with a good track record of entrepreneurship that is not currently being harnessed or promoted. The government of an independent Scotland would be far more proactive in doing that and in addressing the everyday needs and concerns of Scottish businesses.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Independence will provide huge opportunities for Scottish businesses large and small – and we welcome the fact that 44 per cent of businesses who expressed a view in this survey believe an independent Scotland will be positive for them.

“Even with the limited powers we currently have, more than 92,000 premises have benefited from our Small Business Bonus Scheme, saving small businesses almost £167 a year. The scheme is now being expanded to benefit thousands more smaller firms. This is part of the overall business rates relief package which is worth over £590 million in 2014-15.”

A Better Together spokesman said: “Being part of the UK is good for Scotland’s small businesses. Having access to a single market of 63 million people rather than five million means there are greater opportunities for Scotland’s employers.

“Where is the sense in creating a barrier between Scottish businesses and their customers where none exists today?

“What businesses in Scotland need is clarity from Alex Salmond about what would replace the pound.”