Scottish Chambers of Commerce have today (Thursday 1st May) published the results of a major survey of Scottish business opinion on the issues surrounding the referendum on Scottish independence.
This survey represents one of the most comprehensive measurements of Scottish business opinion to date, on the issues surrounding the referendum on independence, including Scotland’s currency options, the opportunities and risks of independence, Scotland’s relationship with Europe and taxation. Businesses of all sizes and sectors across the length and breadth of Scotland participated in this key piece of work. Following on from SCC’s previous survey 9 months ago, numerous debates on the constitution have taken place across Scotland – the question is whether business leaders are now equipped with the answers to critical questions about the future environment in which they could potentially be operating in; and have they been inspired by the quality and contributions made by all political parties? The results make for essential reading and should be a wakeup call to politicians and campaigning groups that they need to do much better.
Commenting on the survey findings, Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said:
“It is clear that businesses are distinctly unimpressed with the quality of the referendum debates so far, with 56% rating them as poor or worse. The various political analyses do not seem to be hitting the mark as far as business is concerned.
“There is a clear message that with just four months left before voters go to the polls, politicians and the campaigning groups need to considerably step up their game. We urge the campaigns to rethink their engagement strategy and come forward with direct answers. We challenge each political party to detail which powers it would bring to Scotland, when, and how it would use these to Scotland’s economic benefit.
“This is a pivotal time for Scotland’s economic and social future. We are beginning to experience an upward trend in our economy, but business deserves better and all politicians should approach this debate with mutual respect and not petty point scoring.
“For businesses, the referendum debate is characterised by the weighing of opportunities against risks and our survey highlights that there remains a fine balance, with a majority of businesses identifying potential opportunities from independence (53%) but this needs to be balanced by over three quarters (77%) identifying potential risks. There are lessons here for both sides of the referendum debate. Politicians often characterise the decision we will make in stark terms and the reality is that many people in the business world cannot relate to this. We must also take into consideration that views vary depending on where companies are trading, the size of the company and the sectors that businesses are operating in. Businesses of whatever size and nature expect to be engaged in a meaningful discussion that relates to the cost of doing business in the future – we need clarity around specific issues.
“It is clear that businesses are actively preparing for the potential outcomes of the referendum, with almost a quarter of businesses having already changed business decisions as a result of the referendum and almost half saying that their business strategy would change if Scotland became independent. There is however a desire for more decisions to be taken by Scots in Scotland, whether or not Scotland becomes independent, with 22% of businesses identifying more Scottish appropriate policies coming from a Scottish Government as the main business opportunity of independence, whilst 68% would welcome more powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event of a ‘no’ vote.
“In the event of independence, for most businesses the preferred option would be to retain Sterling as part of a formal currency union with the remainder of the UK (62%). Businesses perceive increased risk for their business around all of the alternative currency options and this must be addressed by both the Scottish Government and the UK Government. This has created major uncertainty amongst an element of the business community, especially those with the majority of their trading with the rest of the UK and Europe. We would urge the Scottish Government to consider and develop detailed contingency plans for our currency now as the likelihood of the UK Government agreeing to a post-independence currency union has reduced.
“Membership of the European Union is extremely important for most Scottish businesses irrespective of the outcome of the referendum and we call upon the Scottish Government to detail the processes and timelines they will undertake in order to ensure continuity of EU membership and allow businesses to plan for future investment. The UK Government must address the concerns of the 61% of businesses who believe that leaving the EU, whilst remaining in the UK, would have a negative impact on their business.
“The key issues for businesses have heightened in importance as the referendum draws closer. Currency has jumped to the top of the list, followed by Business Rates and Income Tax, which are either entirely or partially devolved, yet Scotland’s politicians have not brought forward any ambitious plans to tackle these issues. Whether or not Scotland becomes independent, we need a new radical approach to the reform of Business Rates, and indeed the other levers which are already under the control of the Scottish Parliament. All parties need to make this commitment now.
“The economy has long been identified as the key issue in the independence debate and Scotland’s businesses have now given a comprehensive assessment of where they stand. Politicians on all sides now need to listen and to respond to the challenges that have been presented
“Chambers of Commerce throughout the UK, are engaging with their members as we approach the Scottish independence referendum allowing the views and attitudes of Scottish businesses to be compared with businesses in other parts of the UK. We will continue to reflect the opinions of business as we approach the referendum date”