Jim Armitage: Business lobby’s scaremongering doesn’t stack up on Scottish independence


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The Independent Online

Outlook Low taxes. Fewer regulations. Stable, rightwing government. These have been the demands of big business around the world since time began.

So you don’t have to be Taggart to work out why major companies, having been given their orders by Number 10, have loudly rallied to the Scottish “no” campaign.

What they fear they’re about to get north of the border is a lifetime of socialist government with the likelihood of higher taxes in the long term and more rigorous regulation.

It’s also not surprising to see global capital slipping away from Scotland lately too. Bankers and fund managers are, after all, businessmen just like chief executives. Research yesterday from the options trader Banc de Binary showed the biggest 30 Scottish based businesses have seen their shares fall 4.2 per cent in the past six months and 1.4 per cent in the past week, compared with the FTSE-100’s overall decline of just 1.3 per cent and 0.2 per cent.

But surely all the scaremongering by business about the risks of a yes vote – yesterday wound up further by BP and Standard Life – is over-egged. Far more likely than a swivel-eyed, loony future Scottish leadership is that the overall governance of the newly independent country will be progressive, liberal, European in style and not too different from the rest of the UK.

Besides which, the Scottish nationalists’ desire to join the EU means Brussels will crimp the more radical proposals of scary future governments anyway – not an argument that can be confidently made for the rest of the UK.

I’m not even too sure that I buy the argument that an independent Scotland can’t retain a currency union. Scotland’s economy isn’t all that different to the rest of Britain’s, and isn’t overly likely to suddenly start diverging after independence either. Comparisons between Spain and Greece seem exaggerated: these were countries whose monetary policy was effectively being controlled by a central bank inevitably dominated by Germany – a country with a totally different economic, historical and cultural makeup. Sure, Scotland’s economy is different from the South of England’s. But with its sizeable defence, aerospace and medical sectors, as well its blighted regions of long-dead industry, it’s not that dissimilar to other parts of the UK, in whose interests the Bank of England will continue to govern.

Yes, some unknown unknown event could happen that decouples Scotland’s economy from the rest of the UK, but Scots may just decide that’s worth taking the risk.

Far more likely is that doing business in Scotland post independence will not be hugely different to now. Some finance firms will decamp to the City of London, but overall trade will remain, mostly, as strong as it is now.

Scots have much to consider before they go to the polls: the impact of independence on defence, public sector jobs, the deficit. Chewy conundrums all, which voters have somehow to work through against confusing disinformation and spin.  But whatever they choose, they should not be fooled by big business into thinking a “yes” vote will bomb Scotland into the dark ages.