Independence? No thanks, say Scottish businesses

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The amount of column inches devoted to the issue of Scottish independence has been huge over the past few months, both north and south of the border.

The debate was stoked by David Cameron who said any referenda should come sooner rather than later so as not to undermine business confidence and investment in Scotland. But just how true is this? And what are the views and thoughts of the very businesses the PM was referring? Our latest research among our Scottish members provides answers here, and the results make for interesting reading. Just 14 per cent of Scottish firms quizzed about independence expressed an interest in make a break from the Union.

The overwhelming majority of small firms quizzed in fact said they preferred either more devolved powers or no change to the current arrangement – 40 and 35% respectively. Just 7% said they would like to see fewer devolved powers for Holyrood, with the remaining 5% as of yet undecided. In addition, only a quarter (26%) of Scottish firms felt a referendum on separation would be harmful to their business, with the most common fear cited as some form of backlash or resentment south of the border. Around 10% felt that the referendum campaign could be advantageous to their business, but the majority (47%) believed there would be no adverse effect. The results of our survey show two important factors.

The first and most important is that there seems to be a very little appetite for a small business in Scotland to make a break from the rest of the UK. This is not something the SNP will want to hear. The second point to note is that there appears to be a broadly equal consensus from business for either staying as we are now or for Scotland to get more devolved powers. Both options see Scotland stay in the Union. As for any effects of a referendum, there remains a lot of uncertainty as to the perceived threat, if any, one would have for small business north of the border. Around a quarter of our members fear it will damage trade ties with the rest of the UK, particularly England, but nearly half think it won’t have any impact whatsoever.

The truth is we don’t really know, and won’t until that referendum happens. Is this then a good case for Cameron’s ‘sooner rather than later’ attitude? The survey also showed that Scottish firms largely feel better off about where they are at present in relation to elsewhere in the UK. This could well explain the small number who currently support full independence. Is it possible then that many business owners north of the border will be thinking: ‘if it’s not broken why fix it?’.