THE SNP’s attempt to win Scotland’s business leaders over to the cause of independence is failing, according to a new poll of senior decision-makers.
The survey of 250 business chiefs by Ipsos Mori shows that just one in ten believes prospects would improve if Scotland decided to become an independent country.
By contrast, more than half believe their businesses will suffer as a result of the country voting Yes to an independent state.
SNP ministers pointed out that the poll was conducted prior to George Osborne’s autumn statement, saying independence offered an alternative to the six more years of austerity lined up in the Chancellor’s proposals.
But pro-UK figures said the poll illustrated the concerns they had about the possibility of trade barriers being thrown up between Scotland and its single biggest market, England.
The political contest to win the support of Scotland’s business community will be crucial in the run-up to the referendum in 2014, with the pro-independence campaign having paraded the support of entrepreneur Jim McColl as a sign that leading wealth creators are in support of secession.
However, other business figures based in Scotland have attacked the plans, including Rupert Soames, the chief executive of power generator Aggreko, who told a House of Lords committee last month that the move would have only “small and tenuous” advantages compared to “large and serious” downsides.
Ipsos Mori spoke to 250 “senior corporate decision-makers”, with the results weighted to take into account the size of the business they run.
The survey does not count the views of small firms, which account for around half of the number of people employed in the private sector
The detailed numbers show that 10 per cent feel their business prospects would improve if Scotland were an independent country, compared with 56 per cent who said it would worsen those prospects. About a quarter say it is too early to say.
Similarly, nearly three quarters say they think that Scottish independence would have a negative impact on businesses in Scotland as a whole, compared to just one in eight who believes that it would have a positive impact.
Asked whether they had started to plan ahead for the possibility of independence, 76 per cent said they had not, compared with less than quarter who say they have yet to consider the impacts.
Mark Diffley, research director at Ipsos Mori, said: “This survey illustrates the concern that senior decision-makers have about the prospect of an independent Scotland in the event of a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum. ”
He said that the latest poll “follows our regular polling of public opinion which has shown support for independence falling during 2012. It is possible that so few business leaders are actively planning for the prospect independence because they do not think that the Yes campaign will win the referendum.
“Looking ahead, it is clear that the Yes campaign has the biggest challenge in persuading the business community of the benefits of independence.”
But finance secretary John Swinney said last night that the SNP was “confident” it could still win the “positive case for a Yes vote in 2014”.
He added: “In September, Jim McColl – one of Scotland’s most successful job-creators – announced that he is set to back a Yes vote.
Mr McColl understands that independence is the best course of action to move Scotland forward economically – a very different outlook from the flawed and failed politics of austerity that Chancellor Osborne continues to impose on the people of Scotland.”
“The poll was conducted before this week’s Autumn Statement, which reinforces the case for Scotland gaining the powers of independence so that we can chart a better course, and build a strong economy and fair society.”
However, pro-UK figures seized on the findings. Pension advice firm Punter Southall said its clients had raised their own concerns about a Yes vote, particularly over what it described as the “imponderables” and “unanswered questions”.
A spokesman for the Better Together campaign said: “The UK is the oldest and most successful single market in the world. We sell more goods to England than we do to every other country in the world combined. It is a nonsense to think that throwing up barriers to trade will make it easier for our businesses to prosper.”
Patricia Ferguson MSP, Scottish Labour’s constitutional spokesperson, said: “Businesses need far more than empty assertions, and this survey shows the deep unease at the big unanswered questions which we face with the SNP’s plans for Scotland.”
But Andy Willox, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “There are more than 300,000 people in Scotland who are either self-employed or run their own business.
During the next two years both sides of the constitutional debate will continue to reach out to the enterprise community and persuade them of the merits of their positions.”