SIR TOM Farmer, one of the SNP’s most influential business backers, has revealed he does not support “separatism” and wants Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The founder of the Kwik-Fit chain has previously donated £100,00 to the SNP and endorsed Alex Salmond at election time. But along with several other big business supporters of the the party, Sir Tom was absent from last Friday’s launch of the official campaign for a “Yes” vote in the independence referendum expected in 2014.
Pro-Union parties yesterday seized on the development, insisting that there had been “precious little” support among the business community for independence. But an independence campaign spokesman insisted that Sir Tom had only ever backed full fiscal autonomy and welcomed the fact that he was prepared to consider the arguments.
Sir Tom has previously set out his support for what has become known as the “devo-max” option of more powers for Holyrood, including full fiscal autonomy for Scotland.
He said last night: “I’m still supportive of devo-max or devo-plus.
“What I want to see is Scotland being more independent. I want to see it being part of the United Kingdom,” the tycoon added. “I’m not convinced of separatism.”
Sir Tom wants to see a third option on the referendum ballot paper, giving voters the chance to vote for a more powers for Holyrood.
“My views were that I wanted to see a Scotland that was more independent, rather than a Scotland that was separate,” he said “I’m still of that opinion – I lean towards devo-max or devo-plus.”
He added: “I’m waiting to hear now all the constructive pros and cons, the arguments for and against. There are lots of issues which have come out over the past six months, and there will be a lot more to come out that will need to be clarified.
“We need to hear the views of respected bodies, like the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who I would see as an independent organisation giving their views in an independent way.”
However, the tycoon insisted he was still “very supportive” of the SNP.
The official launch of the Yes campaign was dominated by showbusiness figures, including film stars Brian Cox, Alan Cumming and Martin Compston, and other leading cultural lights, such as the Makar, Liz Lochhead, and singer-songwriter Dougie Maclean.
But high-profile business backers of the SNP, including Stagecoach chief Sir Brian Souter and former Clyde Blowers boss Jim McColl, were absent.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said yesterday: “I think it was quite significant that this week we saw precious little from the business community supporting the independence campaign.”
He added: “Every business person I speak to and everybody I meet in factories the length and breadth of the country asks the questions about what will happen to our currency, what will happen to our interest rates.
“When they hear suggestions that we will still be part of sterling, we will still be linked to the Bank of England and nothing much will change, they’re very doubtful about that and they also think, ‘Hang on, what kind of independence is this we’re being offered?’”
Scottish businesses currently did not have to worry about “differences between how we do things in Scotland and the rest of the UK”, which is the biggest market for goods and services, Mr Moore added.
Labour finance spokesman Ken Macintosh said: “The attitude amongst Scottish businesses towards separation is hardening. The reality is that most people know we are stronger working in partnership, not competition, with our neighbours and with the biggest market for Scottish manufactured products.”
A spokesman for the Yes Scotland campaign said last night: “Sir Tom Farmer has only ever backed financial autonomy for the Scottish Parliament before, so the news that he is thinking about independence is very welcome.
“Sir Tom is absolutely right to say that all the arguments need to be laid out in the run-up to the referendum, so that he and others can make up their minds – which is exactly why the autumn 2014 timescale is correct, and we are extremely confident of building a persuasive and winning case.
“The Yes Scotland campaign has got off to a fantastic start and we have real momentum, with people showing their support in all corners of the country.”
The campaign released a list of 100 leading Scots yesterday who have a signed up to a declaration that the decisions affecting Scotland are best taken in Scotland. They include Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie, fitness guru Sarah-Jane Walls, The Angels’ Share writer Paul Laverty, Gaelic singer Arthur Cormack and Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd) Kate Howie.
People from across the political spectrum were included, such as former Labour MP and MSP John McAllion, Jeane Freeman, former adviser to Labour First Minister Jack McConnell, and Conservative supporter Peter De Vink.
A spokesman added: “Yes Scotland’s priority is to reach out to people from across Scotland through our people-focused ambassador campaign, online via yesscotland.net and neighbourhood by neighbourhood, about why it is fundamentally better for us all if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people of Scotland.”