Unionists blow as Citigroup report debunked by business leaders

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
A fundamental plank of Unionist attacks on the Scottish Government’s referendum plans has been undermined this week after a group of respected business leaders claimed there was “no evidence” to support claims by a Citigroup analyst that companies were afraid to invest in Scotland.
 
Trade bodies and leading business representatives from the world’s largest companies have questioned claims by Tory Chancellor George Osborne and others that the date of the independence referendum would harm the Scottish economy.

According to trade magazine business7, David Watt, executive director in Scotland of the Institute of Directors, said none of the institute’s 1600 members have expressed any concern as to the schedule of a referendum vote.

He said: “I can’t recall any of our members expressing concern, and I have seen no evidence, apart from the Citibank report published four months ago – which was also slightly bizarre because that report was focused on renewables and one place people are investing is renewables.

“Citibank issued an analysts’ report some months ago advising people not to invest in Scotland because of the political uncertainty, but that is the only mention of concern I have heard publicly until now, and certainly no one has come to mere presenting a company expressing concerns about investing in Scotland in relation to an independence referendum.”

Business7 also reports that a spokesperson for UK Oil & Gas, which represents the interests of some of the world’s largest exploration and production firms, said although the body has no member consensus on the issue of independence, none of its members have raised the issue as a specific concern.

The spokesperson said: “We are an organisation which is trying to improve the business environment and we do say our members will work with whichever administration is in place.

“There are many challenges which come up in industry, and this could be one of them, but it is not something we have even asked the question on and neither has it been discussed at our forums.

“The question of what Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are saying about [the delay in the independence referendum] is one for them to back up.”

Dr Peter Hughes, chief executive of Scottish Engineering, the manufacturing employers’ association said that whilst his members would prefer to get uncertainty out of the way they weren’t jumping up and down about it.

Dr Hughes said that the Scottish Government needed to provide answers to questions on defence, energy and power infrastructure but that there had been no other politician in Scotland to date with any profile bar Alex Salmond.

The evidence from leading business figures is a serious blow to Unionist claims that referendum ‘uncertainty’ is harming the Scottish economy.

First Minister Alex Salmond this week announced that the independence referendum will be held in Autumn 2014, a consultation is to be launched on January 25th.  The Tory/Lib Dem coalition claim that the referendum will be illegal and have set up their own rival consultation which is expected to reach a conclusion sometime in March.

The statements from meading business figures follows comments last November from Lib Dem Treasury Chief Danny Alexander who claimed that the delay in calling a referendum was harming the economy of the whole of the UK.  Mr Alexander cited as evidence the same Citigroup report. 

Tory Chancellor George Osborne has made similar claims and last year was joined by Labour MP Willie Bain who also claimed to have spoken to firms who had expressed concern – however to date both have refused to provide the names of any companies.

This month saw the publication of official figures that showed Scotland’s businesses recorded month on month growth for the whole of last year – outperforming their southern counterparts.  A recent survey also showed that Scotland was the third most prosperous part of the UK, behind the south east of England and London.

This weekend First Minister Alex Salmond will attend a global energy forum in Abu Dhabi where he is expected to sign a ground breaking deal with Abu Dhabi renewables giant Masdar that would see Scottish universities working with Masdar academics to develop new wind, solar, wave and tidal technologies.

The agreement will see researchers from Scottish Universities working alongside experts from Abu Dhabi on Scottish projects and is also expected to lead to significant new investment from one of the wealthiest regions on the planet.