Scots 'Yes' would boost EU Brexit fears for business

UK and Scottish flags Image copyright PA
Image caption If Scotland broke away, it could lead to the UK leaving the EU

In the independence debate, there has been much comment that businesses concerned about a "Yes" vote did not wake up to the perceived risks until the last moment.

The poll in the Sunday Times two weeks ago, giving "Yes" a small lead, concentrated minds and led to a number of businesses making statements on the possible fallout.

Yesterday John Cridland, the director general of the pro-Union business group, the CBI (widely disliked by "Yes" campaigners), said that firms spoke out because "we couldn't leave it to the politicians".

Well, on Europe, with a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU possible in 2017, businesses are planning well ahead.

Senior figures at three FTSE 100 businesses I have spoken to have said that if Scotland votes for independence, the risk of Britain leaving the EU (the fabled "Brexit") would be far higher.

And for those considering where to headquarter their company, that is far more of a risk to their operations than whether Scotland separates or not.

"It is the doomsday scenario," said one chairman. "Scotland votes 'Yes', Cameron resigns, the Conservatives turn further towards euroscepticism, the [EU] referendum happens and we vote to leave Europe."

Another senior figure at a FTSE 30 business said that the board was already discussing what EU exit might mean for its global operations. Papers are being prepared.

"That debate will dwarf Scotland," the executive said, with contingency planning already underway.

Another chief executive of a business at the moment headquartered in Scotland told me that when considering where to ultimately locate, being in the European Union could be more important than being in the UK.

So a decision would have to be made about whether that would be more likely in an independent Scotland or in the rest of the UK. Many businesses will hedge their bets, with legal entities retained in both countries.

Scotland is widely seen as more positive towards Europe than the rest of the UK - both politically and in broader terms, what might be described as public sentiment. So Scottish independence would tilt any future possible EU vote in the rest of the UK in favour of withdrawal.

As Rob Wood, the chief economist at Berenberg, said two days ago: "Such a vote [for 'Yes'] would make Brexit from the EU more likely, because Scotland is relatively pro-EU, while David Cameron would come under pressure to resign."

The referendum debate may have taken a while to spark a reaction from businesses concerned about a result they may not like.

They don't want to make the same mistake with the EU.

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