MARK TWAIN famously said: “Prophesy is a good line of business but it is full of risks.” His comment will resonate with business leaders in Scotland who shudder every time they see a push for another referendum on Scottish independence.
There is nothing business fears more than risk and uncertainty and these two ogres currently stalk the land. Beset with worries about Brexit, the last thing Scottish business needs or wants is the threat of another referendum on independence. They want clarity and direction, which is why Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election is to be welcomed. It will provide the UK with the chance to negotiate the best possible Brexit deal, and allow our political leaders to provide a clear vision for life outside the EU.
The one fly in the ointment in this scenario is the SNP government in Scotland that will try to make this election about Scottish independence. That’s why Scotland’s business community must be vocal and reiterate that another referendum remains the single biggest threat to our economy, stifling investment, inhibiting growth and choking prosperity.
A recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland indicated that there has been a sharp two-year decline in business confidence north of the border. The majority of Scottish businesses believe that conditions will deteriorate and that the Scottish economy is travelling in the wrong direction, and those concerns appear to be borne out by GDP figures showing the start of a contraction in the Scottish economy at the end of last year.
Business leaders are only too well aware of the GERS figures published last summer, which revealed a deficit of £14.8 billion in Scotland, bigger than Greece. With oil prices still hovering around $50 a barrel, independence will mean that the people of Scotland would be faced with the unpalatable choice of massive tax hikes or savage cuts to services.
The UK will soon start talks on a new trading relationship with the EU, a negotiation that the European Council president, Donald Tusk, has speculated could take at least five years. Currently the UK trades with the 27 other EU Member States in the Single Market plus 53 countries with which the EU has tariff-free Free Trade Agreements. All of these trading arrangements have to be re-negotiated, together with new trade deals with the United States, India and a host of other dynamic economies.
But we must never forget that the UK market is worth four times Scotland’s exports to the EU. Our neighbours south of the border are by far our biggest trading partners. Anything that puts that situation at risk must be strenuously avoided. An independent Scotland, with its own currency and potential trade barriers at the English border, is a risk too far. The prospect of an independent Scotland seeking to re-join the EU with the mandatory requirement to adopt the Euro, is met with sheer bemusement by most people in the business community.
The European ideal is ultimately about compromise and mutual advantage, with the wider goal of ensuring peace and prosperity in Europe. Both London and Brussels need to get back to those basic principles and what we need is to see the Scottish Government concentrating its efforts on helping Scotland get the best possible deal from Brexit.
The general election on 8th June is a chance for the people of Scotland to give their opinion and to send the clearest possible message to the SNP government at Holyrood that we don’t want another referendum on independence. What we want is economic growth, jobs and prosperity and these can only be achieved if we give Scottish business the tools for the job.
Struan Stevenson is Chief Executive of Scottish-Business.UK – a businessman, international lecturer and author, he was a Conservative member of the European Parliament representing Scotland from 1999 to 2014.