Kwik Fit founder Tom Farmer “would lean towards independence” over status quo

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has welcomed comments from Sir Tom Farmer, one of Scotland’s leading business figures, saying that he “would lean towards” voting for independence in the 2014 referendum if Scotland is offered the choice between independence and the status quo, and no third option appears on the ballot paper.

Reported in Wednesday’s Herald, the founder of Kwik Fit said: “If it was a case of the status quo and no fiscal autonomy, I don’t think I would be very happy.  If the question was, quite simply, independence or no new powers I would lean towards independence.”

The comments by Sir Tom, who has supported more fiscal autonomy for a number of years, echo those of Jim McColl – another leading Scottish businessman – who said that he and many others may back independence to get more economic powers.

In Wednesday’s Scotsman, Sir Tom said: “I’ve always thought it would be independence or devo-max.”

However he added that if there was only a Yes / No option on the ballot paper: “I think my feelings would be the same as Jim McColl’s.”

He went on: “I’m still open-minded and I’m still ready to wait for the arguments that lie ahead, but I’ve said all along that it’s fiscal autonomy that I want.”

Sir Tom’s remarks will put further pressure on the anti-independence parties to clarify which extra powers would be granted to the Scottish Parliament in the event that Scots opt against independence in the referendum planned for 2014. 

Although all have stated their willingness to devolve additional powers to Scotland, the anti-independence parties maintain that this is a matter which can only be considered after the independence referendum, and refuse to specify what sort of Union the Scottish electorate would be voting for with a “no” vote to independence.  

On a visit to Scotland in March this year, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said that he was “open minded about the transfer of more powers” to Holyrood, but refused to detail which powers, if any, he had in mind.  Both Labour and the Lib Dems claim that they regard devolution as a “process”, but have equally declined to specify the nature of the process or the milestones along the way.  

Critics have claimed that the anti-independence parties are asking Scots to give them a blank cheque, citing the infamous promise made by Conservative former Prime Minister Sir Alex Douglas Home prior to 1979’s Home Rule referendum that his party would offer Scotland “something better” if they rejected the then Labour government’s Home Rule proposals.  

With the anti-independence parties suggesting more powers short of independence – but so far refusing to detail them to the Scottish electorate – SNP MSP Chic Brodie has said that independence is increasingly the choice of those who want to see more financial powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Commenting, Mr Brodie, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee, said:

“Another day, another leading businessman leaning towards supporting independence – more and more people from across Scotland are coming to the view that voting Yes to independence is the only way to get the economic and job-creating powers this country so desperately needs.

“The anti-independence parties speak about more powers short of independence, but if the best that is on offer is David Cameron’s ‘pig in a poke’ offer of unspecified more powers if people vote no to independence it will only encourage more people to vote Yes to independence – as Sir Tom Farmer and Jim McColl’s comments prove.

“Sir Tom has been on the record for years supporting more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Just like Jim McColl, he knows from personal experience that we badly need a full range of fiscal levers to help grow Scotland’s economy and create jobs.

“The SNP want to see all of the powers devolved to Scotland that Sir Tom wishes – and we will be making that case to the people of Scotland between now and the autumn 2014 referendum.”

Sir Tom’s remarks have been widely reported in the Scottish media this week.  However BBC Scotland put a very different spin on Sir Tom’s comments. An article on the business leader featured prominently on the BBC Scotland website failed to mention that Sir Tom would be inclined to vote yes if a question on so-called “devo max” was missing from the referendum ballot.  

The BBC article strove to give the impression that the entrepeneur was unequivocally opposed to independence, when in fact this is far from the case and diametrically opposite to the true tenor of his remarks.  

Instead the story as covered by the BBC focused almost exclusively on Sir Tom’s preference for full fiscal autonomy and gave great detail on the reasons the tycoon would prefer not to have full independence immediately, if he were given the choice of full fiscal autonomy.  The BBC article neglected to mention the political reality that, as things stand, the anti-independence parties are not giving Scots the choice of full fiscal autonomy.