Scottish independence: More captains of industry and finance join clamour for clarity

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MORE of Scotland’s most influential business leaders have called on Alex Salmond to “clarify” his plans for independence.

Oil and gas services magnate Sir Ian Wood and the head of the Dundee-based investment firm the Alliance Trust are the latest industry chiefs to speak out.

It follows recent concerns from power firm Scottish & Southern Energy, engineering firm the Weir Group and construction company Miller Homes about the impact on the business climate of uncertainty surrounding the referendum.

Sir Ian – who will help bankroll the £140 million redevelopment of Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens – said the biggest shift for the offshore industry, if Scotland was to separate itself from the rest of the UK, would come from any differences in the Scottish Government’s policy on extracting oil and gas from the North Sea.

Speaking after the group yesterday posted bumper profits for 2011, Sir Ian told The Scotsman: “We need clarity over the coming years so that our clients will understand the environment they’ll be working in, if independence is the outcome of the referendum.”

The Wood Group will not endorse a Yes or No vote on independence. But Sir Ian added: “What’s key is the extent to which our clients, and to some extent ourselves, anticipate that a Scottish Government would continue with a similar oil and gas policy to the UK.

“The suggestion right now, from the discussions I’ve heard, is that there’s a lot of overlap between the present Scottish Government’s thinking on the development of the oil and gas industry and the UK government’s thinking.”

He went on: “What’s important – and I think the First Minister realises this – is that they must provide as much clarity as possible over the next two years towards the vote in 2014, so that we minimise the uncertainty.”

The outgoing chairman of the Alliance Trust has also spoken out, after shareholders called for a statement on the issue.

Lesley Knox, who steps down next month, insisted the firm would not enter the political fray. But she added: “We will endeavour to ensure that the implications of an independent Scotland in areas such as economic and fiscal policy and regulation of financial services are clearly spelt out.

“In particular, we will wish to establish that the benefits of investment trust status and the position of our investors and customers, wherever they live, will be preserved, regardless of the outcome of the vote.”

Alliance Trust chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox said later: “The investment trust sector benefits from tax exemption against capital gains tax. We have to be mindful that [independence] would not destabilise that.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said it would set out the prospectus for independence before autumn 2014.

He added: “We already have strong engagement with the financial services sector, which is a key industry for Scotland and we are determined to ensure it has all the tools it needs to play an important role in securing the economic success of an independent Scotland.”