Tesco chief joins fight to save Union

Key quote

"A vote for the SNP is a vote for independence. Why go down that road when the Union has served us so well for 300 years? I am a patriotic Scot but I want us to be within the framework of the United Kingdom." - JIM SPOWART, founder of Direct Line

Story in full TESCO chairman David Reid is today heading a Unionist fightback by some of the most powerful figures in commerce and industry, signalling an escalation in what has become a crucial battle for business in the Scottish election campaign.

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Alarmed by the SNP decision to list 100 Nationalist business supporters in a Scotsman advertisement earlier this week, more than 150 Unionists signed up hurriedly to an advertisement of their own, published in the paper today.

It is the first time many of these figures have come forward to declare their support for the Union in this way. Some, though, are well known for supporting either the Union or the Labour Party.

They all want to keep Scotland in the Union and are worried that the election of an SNP government and its pursuit of independence could destabilise business and hamper economic growth.

Mr Reid, head of the Tesco supermarket empire, is the most high-profile champion of the Union in the advertisement. A Scot, he was educated in Edinburgh at the Prime Minister's old school, Fettes College, and qualified as a chartered accountant in Aberdeen.

However, the list also includes Sir David Murray, chairman of Rangers, George Mitchell, the former governor of HBOS, Sir William Purvis, the former chairman of HSBC, Peter Balfour, the former chief executive of Scottish and Newcastle, Billy Keane, the finance director of Robert Wiseman Dairies, and Sir Peter Burt, the former chairman of ITV - all of whom signed up for the advertisement to give very public backing to the Union for the first time in this way.

They are joined by other business leaders, former politicians and senior Scottish sporting stars, such as Finlay Calder, the former British Lions captain, and David Sole, the former Scotland rugby captain, down to smaller business people, such as Andrew Juroszek of the Glentanar Bar in Aberdeen.

Other business leaders who have put their names to the advertisement include Mike Ross, the former chief executive of Scottish Widows, Jim Spowart, founder of Direct Line, Michelle Mone, the underwear millionaire, Duncan Bannatyne, an entrepreneur on BBC's The Dragon's Den, and Charan Gill, a restaurateur.

The battle for the support of the business community has become crucial.

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SNP leaders were delighted when Sir George Mathewson, former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, declared in The Scotsman that he believed Scotland could thrive as an independent country. The Nationalists followed this by naming a succession of business supporters and earlier this week took out an advertisement listing 100 business backers.

Labour has managed to hit back - but through support for the Union, not Labour, and through a business supporter, not through party funds.

The 150 business people were brought together by John Milligan, chairman of Atlantic Power and Gas, who has been a high-profile donor to Labour in the past.

Labour was delighted that such an impressive list of business figures came out in defence of the Union, but party officials stressed the initiative was Mr Milligan's, not Labour's - a clear indication that not all the individuals support Labour.

In a joint statement, the business people declared: "We are business men and women committed to the future of Scotland. We believe Scotland's best future for investment, jobs and prosperity is being part of Britain and we believe that the break-up of Britain would damage Scotland."

Although the people concerned have signed up to the advertisement in their personal capacities, not representing their companies, it is still a risky move.

Many other senior business figures believe in the Union but do not come forward, fearing it might hurt their companies to be seen to be on one side of what is a passionately fought debate.

Mr Spowart was one who was willing to put his support for the Union on the record. He said he was so concerned that the election of an SNP government would put Scotland on a path to independence that he felt he had to come forward.

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He said: "A vote for the SNP is a vote for independence. Why go down that road when the Union has served us so well for 300 years? I am a patriotic Scot but I want us to be within the framework of the United Kingdom."

Mr Spowart said he was particularly concerned with SNP plans to take Scotland into the euro when England would still have the pound. He said this would cost Scots a transaction charge every time they dealt with English businesses.

A Labour spokesman said: "We welcome these businessmen and women speaking out to back Britain. We know that the majority of business, like the majority of the Scottish people, oppose independence, but the scale and significance of these businessmen and women is a hammer-blow to the SNP's claims that Scots want separation."

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, said that a recent Business Insider survey of Scottish businesses found 80 per cent in favour of the Union and 40 per cent backing the Tories.

Nicol Stephen, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The last thing business wants is constitutional upheaval and uncertainty."

But Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said: "Two days ago, the SNP published a list of 100 business people calling on people to vote SNP. By contrast, Labour can't get anyone to say vote Labour and they are reduced to getting front organisations to pay for their adverts.

"Labour is the party that dare not speak its name in Scotland's business community."

Pledges on police 'a joke'

SCOTLAND'S politicians came under fire yesterday as it emerged that as few as a third of police officers are engaged in front-line duties in some areas.

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Pledges by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to fund 1,000-1,500 extra officers were branded a "joke" as members of the Scottish Police Federation called for a 20 per cent increase in front-line staff at their annual conference.

Strathclyde Police delegate Les Gray said: "I have to be honest, 1,000 police officers is a joke; 1,500 police officers is a joke.

"One thousand or 1,500 police officers is what the Strathclyde force needs alone."

The Tories have committed to recruit 1,500 new officers, while the Nationalists and Lib Dems both say that they will recruit 1,000.