Scottish independence: Business greater clarity call

THE majority of Scottish businesses do not know enough about the prospect of independence to take a view on the subject, according to a comprehensive study of firms ahead of next year’s referendum.

The survey shows how businesses large and small dont have enough information to take a view on independence. Picture: Getty

The poll of more than 800 companies across the country by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce found that, in six out of ten cases, business representatives did not know enough details of the consequences of a Yes vote to decide whether or not they were in favour of the nation becoming independent.

Their concerns focus on issues such as taxation policy, whether Scotland would keep the pound and the country’s status as a member of the European Union.

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The survey showed many businesses felt that, until these major questions were resolved, it would remain near impossible to reach a judgment.

Business chiefs said that far more information was required in the remaining 
15 months of the campaign on the key issues of the currency and tax, so that businesses could make a clearer judgment.

The survey, conducted jointly by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Economic and Social Research Council, asked large, medium and small firms whether they had taken a view on how next year’s vote would impact on their livelihoods. While 37 per cent replied that they had, the majority – 58 per cent – said they did not know enough on which to base a decision.

More than 70 per cent agreed that independence would affect their activities in some way, the survey found. The concerns about the impact of independence were highest among those businesses which trade with the rest of the UK. Those who do business across the world said they were less concerned.

The paramount importance of issues such as the currency and the EU was also clear in the survey. It found many businesses acknowledged that the precise nature of independence would depend on how those bigger issues were resolved.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Nearly 60 per cent of businesses surveyed said they didn’t know enough to take a view on whether Scotland should become independent or remain within the UK.

“We also found that over 70 per cent of businesses that responded expect that independence would affect their business.

“This sends a clear message to those conducting the constitutional debate in Scotland that more information is needed on key business concerns to ensure that the choice made in 2014 is based on the best evidence available about the implications of the alternatives offered.”

Her call comes with the Scottish Government still preparing its white paper on independence, which will not be published until the autumn.

In the meantime, SNP ministers have sought to demonstrate certainty around the prospect by declaring they are “crystal clear” in supporting the retention of the pound.

They also insist the question of EU membership would be resolved before the country became independent in 2016, if it votes Yes next year.

However, both cases have been challenged.

Chancellor George Osborne has declared it “unlikely” that the rest of the UK would want to share a currency, while the European Commission has stated that new states would be required to apply for membership to the EU, prompting questions over what terms an independent Scotland would negotiate.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “An independent Scotland offers the prospect of substantial economic gains for businesses and the communities they serve in every part of the country.”

She pointed to a recent document issued by First Minister Alex Salmond on the country’s economic prospects.

She said: “Independence will mean that all key economic levers, including business taxes, will be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, giving us the opportunity to set policies best suited to this country’s needs and helping create a more prosperous and fairer society.

“Recent figures show that Scotland remains a top destination for foreign inward investment as the referendum approaches, and we look forward to further engagement with business organisations to set out how the powers of independence can create a brighter future for Scotland.”

However, the pro-UK campaign group last night seized on the lack of certainty felt by the business community.

A Better Together spokesman said: “Businesses in Scotland deserve honest answers from the SNP about the implications of separation.

“Whether it’s on currency, the EU or regulation, the Nationalists have completely failed to offer any credible idea of what would happen if we go it alone. The reason for this is that, despite having 80 years to come up with some, the SNP don’t have any answers.”

He added: “Scottish businesses benefit from being part of the single UK market.

“We sell more to the rest of the UK than to the rest of the world combined. There is no sense in putting up a border with our biggest trading partner. It is clear that we are stronger and better together.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Well over a year into their campaign, and the majority of businesses feel they don’t have enough information about the Nationalists’ independence plans, and 70 per cent of businesses think it would affect them.

“This just shows the monumental scale of the challenge they have to convince the business community that independence would be good for them.”

• The survey was conducted between 5 and 19 June, involving firms ranging from sole traders to large companies with more than 500 staff.