Research for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) found that 8 per cent of firms had definite plans to move away from Scotland if it voted to leave the UK, while a further 10 per cent said they were considering moving away if this was the case.
The survey also revealed that more than half of Scots firms believed the quality of debate so far in the referendum campaign was either “poor” or “dismal”.
Just under half of the 759 businesses surveyed (49 per cent) said they would change their strategy if Scotland became independent, with almost a quarter (24 per cent) stating they had already changed a business decision as a result of the debate about the country’s future.
A total of 38 per cent of firms surveyed said the main risk for their business was the “uncertainty over the issues or the time it will take during the transfer to independence”.
However, 23 per cent of companies said there were no risks associated with Scotland leaving the UK.
Pound backed, debate slammed
If Scotland was to become independent, almost two-thirds of firms backed keeping the pound in a currency union with the rest of the UK - the policy favoured by the Scottish Government but already ruled out by the three main parties at Westminster.
62 per cent of firms said this would either be “extremely positive” or “positive”.
Meanwhile, 68 per cent of firms said they backed increasing the Scottish Parliament’s powers if the result of the referendum was a No vote.
The survey also found many businesses had a poor opinion of the quality of the referendum debate so far, with 11 per cent describing it as “dismal” and 45 per cent saying it was “poor”. No firms said the debate had been “excellent” and only 5 per cent said it was “very good”.
30 per cent of businesses said the contributions from the UK Government to the debate had been “useless” while 11 per cent of firms believed this about the Scottish Government’s contributions.
In addition, one in 10 firms branded the Yes campaign’s contributions as “useless”, with 18 per cent describing the pro-UK Better Together’s additions to the debate in the same way.
‘Campaigns must up their game’
SCC chief executive Liz Cameron urged those campaigning on both sides of the independence debate to “step up their game”.
She said: “It is clear that businesses are distinctly unimpressed with the quality of the referendum debates so far, with 56 per cent rating them as poor or worse.
“The various political analyses do not seem to be hitting the mark as far as business is concerned.”
She said while 53 per cent of businesses identified opportunities from independence, “this needs to be balanced by over three-quarters (77 per cent) identifying potential risks”.
Ms Cameron said: “It is clear that businesses are actively preparing for the potential outcomes of the referendum, with almost a quarter of businesses having already changed business decisions as a result of the referendum and almost half saying that their business strategy would change if Scotland became independent.
“There is, however, a desire for more decisions to be taken by Scots in Scotland, whether or not Scotland becomes independent.”
Ms Cameron added: “We would urge the Scottish Government to consider and develop detailed contingency plans for our currency now as the likelihood of the UK Government agreeing to a post-independence currency union has reduced.”
A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “There are major opportunities to be gained for the business community with a Yes vote as this survey underlines. The real uncertainty for business and for Scotland stems from a No vote.
“Business for Scotland is one of the fastest growing pro-independence groups across the wider entire Yes movement with some 1,900 members, and increasing daily.”
A spokesman for Better Together said: “It is hardly surprising the majority of businesses responding to this survey identified the enormous risks involved with leaving the UK.
“A Yes vote in September would see us having to reapply for membership of the EU and we would have no idea what conditions would be attached to that application.
“It would also mean that we would lose the pound as our currency. It is little wonder that businesses are so concerned about it.
“We can have the best of both worlds in Scotland. We can have our own parliament with more powers guaranteed and the strength, security and stability of being part of the UK. This survey shows that this is what business wants.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Chamber of Commerce survey shows that more than half of businesses recognise that independence will bring new opportunities, with two thirds of businesses agreeing that a currency union with the rest of the UK is the best option when it comes to finances and sharing Scottish Government concerns over the UK removing Scotland from the EU.
“We are committed to giving voters access to information that will allow them to make an informed decision on September 18. ”
A Scotland Office spokeswoman said the survey showed how a Yes vote could damage Scotland’s economic recovery.
She said: “The economic recovery is becoming firmly embedded in all parts of the UK, with businesses at the heart of this recovery.
“As this survey highlights, with a number of firms considering whether they have a future in an independent Scotland and three-quarters believing there are potential risks attached, a Yes vote on September 18 could place this recovery in jeopardy.”