By a Newsnet reporter
A business organisation head who has become the latest figure to imply that independence referendum ‘uncertainties’ could harm Scottish businesses, was once a former candidate for the Conservative party.
Mark Tennant, current chairman of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE), claimed in a speech on Thursday evening that uncertainty over Scotland’s membership of the EU could have a “profound” effect on Scotland’s financial sector.
In a speech made at an annual dinner and awards ceremony, Mr Tennant claimed that questions over Scotland’s EU membership and what currency would be used post-independence, needed to be answered.
Mr Tennant claimed he was “being careful to maintain SFE’s long-standing neutrality on party political matters”, before adding:
“… we need to know before a decision is taken whether, post-independence; Scotland would be a member of EU. I appreciate the political difficulties and I recognise the competing claims made on this subject. But for our industry, and I suspect many others, the consequences of uncertainty on this issue as the country approaches a referendum would be profound.”
Mr Tennant added: “Similar questions arise in relation to currency, the identity and governance of the Central Bank, regulation and other matters.”
However Newsnet Scotland has learned that Mr Tennant – a former Eton pupil – is no stranger to politics, being a former Treasurer of the Scottish Conservatives and candidate for the Conservative party. The SFE Chairman stood for the Tory party in the early 1990s as a candidate in Dunfermline East and for the European constituency of the Highlands and Islands.
In 1992 Mr Tennant came second in the Dunfermline East seat to Labour’s Gordon Brown, losing by 23,692 votes to 6,248.
Mr Tennant’s claims of uncertainty were disputed by a Scottish government spokesman who said:
“Legal, constitutional and European experts have all confirmed an independent Scotland will continue in EU membership.
“Scotland would not be a new part of the EU and the issue of the euro would be decided by a referendum of the people of Scotland. All the issues – including financial regulation – have been detailed in Scottish Government publications.”
However, the SFE chairman’s claims were seized on by outgoing leader of Scottish Labour Iain Gray, who said:
“Alex Salmond has to start coming up with answers as we see the SFE are just the latest body to express concerns about his plans for separation.”
Referring to a now widely discredited report by London analysts Citigroup, Mr Gray added:
“There is now growing disquiet over the SNP plans in both the finance and the energy sectors. These are two sectors vital for Scotland’s future who are asking serious questions. The SNP cannot simply brush them aside.”
This latest foray into the constitutional debate by an organisational head follows a similar path to that taken by the former head of CBI Scotland, Iain McMillan. Unionist leaning Mr McMillan, who remains a director of the lobbying group, claimed last week that his organisation remains opposed to Scottish independence.
Mr McMillan was subsequently accused by a leading Scottish businessman of “not serving the best interests of Scotland’s business community”.
Responding to comments by Mr McMillan, entrepreneur Jim McColl who recently sold ClydeUnion Pumps for £3/4 billion said:
“Any representative business body that approaches the constitutional question with a negative mindset is not serving the best interests of Scotland’s business community, or indeed the need to bring jobs and investment to Scotland.”
The claims by Mr Tennant of ‘uncertainty’ follow similar claims by Unionist politicians and other opponents of major constitutional change.
Last month Tory Chancellor George Osborne claimed to have spoken to major international firms who had expressed a reluctance to invest in Scotland because of the independence referendum.
However, despite being pressed to reveal the names of the firms by SNP Finance Minister John Swinney, Mr Osborne refused to do so. Labour MP Willie Bain made similar claims, but also declined to reveal the identities of the organisations.
Earlier this week the former chairman of the Scottish Property Federation (SPF), Malcolm Naish, claimed that the planned independence referendum may “be a good thing” for firms investing in Scotland.
Mr Naish, who stepped down as chairman of the SPF last week, also said that he knows of no investors who have reconsidered investing in Scotland because of Scottish government plans to hold the independence referendum.
Mr Naish was being interviewed on Radio Scotland when he was asked whether in his experience the referendum was making investors think twice.
Mr Naish replied: “I haven’t seen that as yet, no …” adding “It’s just the uncertainty about what it might mean going forward. It could of course be a good thing, it doesn’t mean that it would necessarily be a bad thing, it’s just the uncertainty that would come with that.
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