Businesses will need clarity after Scotland decides

First Minister Alex Salmond with Scottish business leaders yesterday
First Minister Alex Salmond with Scottish business leaders yesterday
Black Star Riders: from left, Scott Gorham, Chad Szeliga, Ricky Warwick,  Robbie Crane and Damon Johnson.  Picture by Richard Stow

Black Star Riders come under Heavy Fire on their latest tour

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Scots will go to the polls on Thursday to vote on whether or not to remain in the UK. Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Dunn shares his view on what it means for business on the south coast

Our latest poll of members has shown that most businesses are still looking for clarity on economic issues whichever way Scotland chooses.

We are being asked to take it all on trust, whether independence or greater devolution.

Most respondents are telling us they don’t see any obvious value to them from Scottish independence.

The general feeling is that we are better together.

Beyond that, those who sell to Scotland or have Scottish-based operations are saying that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, they want to know exactly what’s going to happen on currency, tax, pensions and Europe.

They recognise that these questions will require a period of negotiation.

The key concern is trading across a border and whether, currency union or not, that would lead to the burden of transaction costs.

Some respondents have told us they would simply treat Scotland as another export market and manage the risks accordingly just as they do with other countries.

Others believe the practical difficulties of breaking up the national economy are probably insurmountable.

They point to the stock market jitters we are currently seeing as a sign of lack of confidence.

A ‘No’ vote also brings uncertainty however.

That’s because members feel the head of steam built up by the referendum and the new Westminster promise of greater Scottish devolution create concerns over national debt implications and the distribution of public funding across the United Kingdom.

It’s an uncertain and unsettling prospectus whichever way round you look at it.

The strong links between Hampshire and Scotland are clear in the volume of business going through Southampton Airport. It has five flights to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh every day, with another regular route to Aberdeen. Glasgow and Edinburgh are among the airport’s busiest routes overall.

Post-referendum, politicians need to get a grip of the implications for business, stop being seen as remote, and ensure the business community has the certainty it needs for long-term investment and job creation.

Business passengers are among the main users along with those travelling to see friends and relatives. As part of the tourism economy, a particular reason to fly to Hampshire from Scotland is to connect with the cruise ships departing from Southampton Port and the ferries from Portsmouth. If, following an independence vote, the SNP government in Scotland were to follow through with its pledge to remove Air Passenger Duty, that would make flying to and from Scotland cheaper. However, the jury is out as to whether independence would, overall, bring increasing, or decreasing, amounts of Scottish travel and business to our region.

‘Independence would cause shipbuilding jeopardy’

SHIPBUILDING continues to form a major part of the battle over Scottish independence after BAE Systems’ Portsmouth yard was closed in favour of those on the Clyde.

Young shipbuilders in Scotland warned the future of the industry is in jeopardy if the country becomes independent and accused the Yes campaign of failing to come up with a credible plan for its survival.

The group said it was ‘gravely concerned’ about the prospect of leaving the UK and dismissed independence as an ‘utterly irrational gamble’ with its livelihood.

In a letter to First Minister Alex Salmond, the workers said shipbuilding in Glasgow is set to continue until at least the mid-2030s under UK plans to build new frigates but claimed the SNP had not presented a viable alternative strategy.

‘The assertion made that current Scottish shipbuilding capacity could be sustained in the absence of UK naval contracts by diversifying into commercial alternatives is considered by us to be extraordinarily simplistic and fanciful in its assessment of the commercial market,’ the 20 young workers wrote.

But SNP MSP Sandra White said: ‘Scottish yards are the best place to produce the Type 26 ships — and given that shipbuilding is to cease at Portsmouth this year, realistically Scotland is the only place.’