Scottish independence: Referendum debate 'needs to improve'

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Image caption Almost a fifth of the companies who responded said they would at least consider leaving Scotland in the event of a "Yes" vote

Both sides of the independence debate need to "step up their game" in the final months of the referendum campaign, according to a survey of Scottish businesses.

The survey for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) found more than half of respondents rated the level of debate so far as "poor" or "dismal".

Issues around currency, taxes and business rates were found to be the most important for firms.

A total of 759 businesses took part.

Nearly a fifth said they would consider moving away from Scotland in the event of a "Yes" vote.

The research was commissioned by the SCC, which represents small businesses across Scotland, and carried out by the Economic and Social Research Council.

It found 56% of respondents rated the quality of the independence debate so far as either "poor" or "dismal".

None described it as "excellent", with 5% saying it had been "very good" and 41% saying it had been either "good" or "fair".

Information provided by pro-independence campaigners has been found to be more useful that that issued by the pro-UK campaign, the survey suggested.

It found 36% of respondents believed information issued by the Scottish government had been "useful" or "very useful". The figure for the Yes Scotland campaign was 40%.

In comparison, information from the UK government was described as "useful or "very useful" by 16% of respondents, with the Better Together campaign faring slightly better on 19%.

The UK government information was described as "useless" by 30% of the businesses surveyed. Only 11% of respondents used that term to describe information from the Scottish government.

Among the other key findings were:

  • 18% said they would at least consider moving away from Scotland in the event of a "Yes" vote
  • 53% of businesses saw potential opportunities from independence, while 77% identified potential risks
  • 62% wanted an independent Scotland to retain sterling as part of a formal currency union with the rest of the UK in event of a "Yes" vote
  • 68% of businesses would welcome more powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event of a "No" vote
  • 61% believed leaving the EU - while remaining part of the UK - would have a negative impact on their business

Liz Cameron, chief executive of SCC, said many businesses were currently weighing-up the opportunities of independence against the risks, saying there "remains a fine balance".

She urged both the pro-independence and pro-Union campaigns to come forward with "direct answers" to the questions highlighted by the survey.

Mrs Cameron added: "The various political analyses do not seem to be hitting the mark as far as business is concerned.

"There is a clear message that with just four months left before voters go to the polls, politicians and the campaigning groups need to considerably step up their game. We urge the campaigns to rethink their engagement strategy and come forward with direct answers.

'Pivotal time'

"We challenge each political party to detail which powers it would bring to Scotland, when, and how it would use these to Scotland's economic benefit.

"This is a pivotal time for Scotland's economic and social future. We are beginning to experience an upward trend in our economy, but business deserves better and all politicians should approach this debate with mutual respect and not petty point scoring."

Ms Cameron also urged the Scottish government to draw up "detailed contingency plans" around the currency.

The Scottish government has long favoured a formal currency union with the rest of the UK should Scotland vote "Yes", a position that has been ruled out by UK Conservative chancellor George Osborne, and the other main parties at Westminster.

European Union

She also said the UK government should address concerns around the UK's membership of the EU - the Conservatives have said they will hold a referendum on EU membership if they win the 2015 UK general election.

The Better Together campaign said the number of businesses claiming they would consider leaving Scotland in the event of a "Yes" vote highlighted the risks of independence.

A spokesman said: "A Yes vote in September would see us having to reapply for membership of the EU and we would have no idea what conditions would be attached to that application.

"It would also mean that we would lose the pound as our currency. It is little wonder that businesses are so concerned about it."

A Yes Scotland spokesman said independence offered major opportunities for businesses.

"The real uncertainty for business and for Scotland stems from a No vote," he added.

"Business for Scotland is one of the fastest growing pro-independence groups across the wider entire Yes movement with some 1,900 members, and increasing daily.

"This in itself demonstrates that more and more small and medium seized businesses - which are the backbone of the Scottish economy - appreciate the benefits and opportunities that taking responsibility for managing our own affairs and economy present."

The referendum on Scottish independence will be held on 18 September. Voters will be asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

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