Business leaders join in referendum debate

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By a Newsnet reporter

Following the comments of the CBI yesterday and UK Government ministers in recent days, members of Scotland’s business community have refuted questions over the timing of an independence referendum and called for an end to scaremongering and a proper discussion on the merits of taking all decisions about Scotland within Scotland.

Despite numerous scaremongering reports in the mainstream media over recent weeks, fuelled by Westminster and Unionist politicians, to date there is little hard evidence that the referendum or the prospect of Scottish independence is damaging the Scottish economy.

Business leaders have in the main expressed either a neutral or a positive attitude towards constitutional change in Scotland.  Recently David Watt, Executive Director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland was asked by the BBC’s Huw Edwards whether he was concerned by the prospect of a Scottish referendum in autumn 2014, as opposed to the Westminster government’s preference for a vote as soon as possible.  Mr Watt said that he thought that the date of the referendum made no difference.  Having a timetable leading up to the second half of 2014 allowed businesses to plan.

Speaking to the Sunday Post recently, Mr Jim McColl, one of Scotland’s leading business figures, welcomed the Scottish Government’s upcoming consultation on Scotland’s constitutional future.  Mr McColl said: “many of us in business are convinced a prosperous future for this country depends on more powers for the parliament.”

Ewan Hunter, Director of HunterSearch – an executive search consulting business based in Edinburgh, Chairman of Recruitwork – the UK’s newest web-based job advertising platform and an Enterprise Partner at Strathclyde University, also added his voice to the debate.

Mr Hunter said:  “The announcement of the timing of the referendum comes as a welcome step forward in Scotland. Businesses in Scotland, and those considering investing here, already understand that constitutional change of one form or another is looking more and more certain. We’ve been living with this for many years, and the pace has certainly picked up since devolution. In fact, recent figures suggest that as Scotland becomes more confident in its international dealings, Scotland is becoming an ever more attractive place to invest in. Our experience certainly seems to back this up.

“Businesses all over the world adapt to their surroundings in whatever form; be they regulatory, financial or political. As long as there is sensible leadership and clear vision – with a sensible trading environment – the business world will cope well.

“What business leaders in Scotland really seek to hear is a positive discussion on the future for Scotland and what part they can play in shaping it, not a re-run of old arguments about potential damage to the economy of constitutional change. The discussion now needs to focus upon both the principles of the various proposals as well as the detailed thoughts. What will make a difference to how businesses feel is what they believe the environment in a New Scotland will be for employment, tax, international trade & relations, finance etc.

“Bearing in mind that this is the most important decision for those living in Scotland in over 300 years, rather than focusing upon the mechanics of a referendum – frankly business expects our political leaders to be able to sort that out amongst themselves – we look forward to hearing the ideas and proposals as they are published and to engaging in a positive discussion about the next steps for Scotland and its part in the global economy”

Dan Macdonald of Macdonald Estates said:

“London will use their power, and any strategy available to them, that keeps Scotland firmly in the UK, so does not this in itself tell you that we should be self-sufficient.

“The fact is the biggest decision in three centuries lies before us and we owe it to our children, and those who succeeded us to take whatever time is required to discuss the form and detail of what will be our New Scotland. In order to do that London politicians need to stop peddling scare stories and focus on a meaningful debate about Scotland’s future.

“Fiscal and tax raising powers right here, will give us exactly the powers we need to initiate greater opportunities to exploit that simmering commercial potential that has lain under the surface, and let us grow our trade with Europe and the rest of the world.”

Sarah Jane Walls, owner of The Residence Glasgow:

“I think independence will be good for Scotland. It’s an important decision for our nations future and we need a thorough consultation to make sure we get it right.

“We need less negative scaremongering and more positive debate about Scotland’s future.

“I’m excited about the possibilities for Scotland as independent country, and believe we have a greater chance to compete successfully on the world stage with competitive tax systems and competitive pro-business policies focussed on our priorities.”

An analysis published on January 4th by Financial Times Research showed that Scotland is the “most prosperous” part of the UK outside London and the South East of England, in terms of the 12 nations and regions of the UK.  Scotland’s economic output is 99 per cent of the UK average. The highest is London at 171 per cent, and the lowest is Wales at 74 per cent.  (Gross Value Added per head of population in 2010.)

With the exception of London, Scotland is the only nation or region in the UK to show an increase in economic output between 2007 and 2010, recording growth of 1.9 per cent.

The Gross Value Added (GVA) figures for Scotland do not include the value of economic output generated by oil and gas production in Scottish waters.  A separate analysis shows that, in terms of GDP per head, Scotland with our geographical share of oil and gas output would be the sixth wealthiest nation among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) countries, compared to the UK at sixteenth place.