Scottish independence: Put off debate until 2014, urges business leader

Alex Salmond's government has been accused of being 'obsessed' with the future governance of Scotland. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Alex Salmond's government has been accused of being 'obsessed' with the future governance of Scotland. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SCOTLAND’S independence debate should be shelved until 2014 to allow the government to concentrate on the more pressing issue of rebuilding the country’s economy, a business leader has claimed.

David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors of Scotland, has used his New Year’s message to attack the “current obsession with our future governance”, arguing that the debate can wait until autumn 2014, when the independenence referendum is due to take place.

Mr Watt said the focus on Scotland’s political future was happening at the expense of support for business and creating jobs, and urged the government to turn its attention to the “more immediate challenges” of creating sustainable economic growth. He issued a stark warning that as the “deeper effects of public sector cuts begin to kick in” ministers will need to do more to deliver investment opportunities for companies.

Mr Watt also called for the need for “strong leadership and direction” from the Scottish Government and an improved economic infrastructure such as a new road building programme alongside reforms to the planning process to encourage growth.

Mr Watt said: “The current obsession with our future governance is understandable, but not helpful. Right now we have more immediate challenges to face and an economy to build.

“We can debate other matters in the background and work on how to vote when it comes around in autumn 2014.

“2013 will see some of the deeper effects of public sector cuts begin to kick in and we need to build our business strength to pick up the personnel and the resources which will come out of this.”

Mr Watt went on to urge ministers to avoid increases in taxes and levies on businesses, which he warned would harm the prospects of economic growth.

He said: “They need to stop focusing on unnecessary legislation and instead concentrate on infrastructure, including broadband development.

“There have been some welcome moves in this direction north and south of the Border, but more can and should be done, for example to use planning as a growth tool and to see major road infrastructure commence.

“In Scotland in particular, we must focus on the wealth creation agenda and rebuild what used to be the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial nation.”

Mr Watt also called on ministers to focus on what he said were high levels of youth unemployment and a lack of job and training prospects for school leavers in Scotland.

Opposition parties seized on Mr Watt’s suggestion that the independence debate was having a destabilising affect on Scotland’s economy.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Slashing empty properties relief and the creation of the retail levy have hammered a sector which is already struggling.

“Now we have another expert in the field pointing out the folly of their introduction, and still the Scottish Government fails to listen to those on the front line.”