Scotland business

Scottish referendum: Firms look to economic future

Scottish banknotes Image copyright Getty Images

Scottish business leaders have urged politicians across the UK to work with them over Scotland's economic future, following the nation's decision to remain within the UK.

The call came from representatives of some of Scotland's biggest sectors, including financial services, oil and gas and Scotch whisky.

They said businesses must make the most of any new devolved powers.

But pro-independence figures said they did not think "real powers" would come.

Scotland voted decisively to stay in the United Kingdom on Thursday, with the No side winning more than 55% of the vote.

After the outcome was announced, banking giant RBS said it would no longer be shifting its head office from Edinburgh to London.

It had warned it would move its registered office south of the border in the event of a "No" vote.

Reacting to the referendum result, Scottish Financial Enterprise chief executive Owen Kelly said: "The major uncertainties that would have arisen with a 'Yes' vote can now be put aside and we can concentrate our efforts on promoting Scotland as an international financial centre within the UK.

"Clearly there will be changes to the governance of Scotland but the currency and regulatory environment within which our industry has had so much success remains intact."

Douglas Fraser

Business and Economy Editor, BBC Scotland

It's like a dam has broken. Pent-up pressure from business is now letting loose a torrent of demands.

The main one is that government works more closely with business, implicitly saying there hasn't been enough co-operation.

Much of business has kept quiet for three years to avoid antagonising the Scottish government, while ministers have had one political goal in mind.

Those who have offered unhelpful commentary or questions have found themselves under political pressure.

There has also been alarm within business at the direction of travel for the independence debate.

It's seen as having moved away from serious discussion of how to grow the economy.

Instead, there have been wars of words over committing to public spending, protecting the NHS from those making profits, and even 'a day of reckoning' for politically unhelpful firms.

While Business for Scotland ran a vigorous campaign for independence, some business people within the SNP have also been alarmed by the main themes coming through, and want to see the party get back to more balance between the rhetoric of social justice and of wealth creation.

Of other themes running through the business response to the 'No' result, some, like the renewable energy sector, are pitching for the regulatory powers they want to see made more coherent.

And the prospect of much more devolution throughout the UK is raising a whole new set of questions about the workings of more dispersed power, taxation and regulation across the UK.

Peter Wallace, head of financial services at accountancy firm EY Scotland, said: "The confirmation of a 'No' vote removes much of the burden of uncertainty from the shoulders of Scotland's financial services industry.

"Big ticket items such as currency and regulation can be scored off the list of considerations, but the impact of any further legislative changes, particularly those around taxation, will move up the agenda."

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said Scotland was "now on a path which will provide additional devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament".

Chief executive Liz Cameron said: "We need clarity and detail on what specific powers will be transferred, and ensure these are delivered within the promised timescale.

"The Scottish business community will work with our politicians at Holyrood and Westminster to influence and deliver the best deal for Scottish business."

Image copyright Getty Images

Estate agents said the referendum result could give the Scottish housing market a welcome boost but warned more detail was needed on future devolved powers.

Andrew Rettie, head of Strutt & Parker in Scotland, said: "We all hope this will be a shot in the arm for the Scottish housing market and that the momentum seen earlier in the year returns to the sector.

"Buyers and sellers who have stalled in recent months while waiting to see how the referendum plays out can now move forward with relative certainty about what lies ahead.

"In helping this process, we appeal to the Westminster government for urgent clarity on the tax-raising and legislative powers which will be devolved to Holyrood so that vendors and purchasers can plan accordingly."

Scottish retail sector representatives said the vote signalled "the start of a fresh chapter of devolution", with greater power and more economic responsibility for Holyrood and the Scottish government.

Scottish Retail Consortium director David Lonsdale added: "The SRC and our members look forward to engaging constructively and positively to ensure that the further powers to be devolved are implemented in a sensible and cost-effective manner."

The Scotch Whisky Association urged politicians of all parties to work "to bring our country together".

Chief executive David Frost added: "The referendum debate has shown the need for government and business to collaborate to address long-term economic challenges."

'Heal the rifts'

Oil expert Sir Ian Wood, who took a pro-Union stance in the run-up to the referendum, said he was pleased the Scottish people "have chosen the best of both worlds".

He added: "The UK government must now deliver on their undertakings on wider devolved responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament and every effort must be made to heal the rifts from the past few months.

"Scotland must unite and work within the wider UK to take full advantage of the opportunities."

Industry body Oil & Gas UK said it looked forward to continuing working closely with both the UK and Scottish governments on maximising economic recovery of the UK's offshore oil and gas resource.

Chief executive Malcolm Webb added: "To safeguard the industry's future, it is particularly important that the government now presses swiftly ahead with fiscal reform as well as the implementation of Sir Ian Wood's recommendations to maximise the economic recovery of our oil and gas resource.

"The industry must not delay either in a cross-sector effort to bring its escalating costs under control."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Small business leaders said the Scottish Parliament was set to become "a more powerful actor in our economy"

The Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox said: "We must now focus on the future and how we can come together to make Scotland the best place to live, work and do business.

"With the Scottish Parliament set to become a more powerful actor in our economy, the touchstones of the new devolution settlement must be boosting business and growth."

Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Grahame Smith said: "It is essential that the forthcoming discussions on further powers deliver a substantial and meaningful package are not left to the politicians alone.

"The voice of civil society, so important in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, must be heard. The STUC and others must be at the table."

Pro-independence campaign group Business for Scotland said it did not believe that Westminster "will grant Scotland any of the real powers necessary to create jobs and make the positive changes that will enable the Scottish economy to truly thrive".

Chief executive Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp added: "Backbench Westminster MPs and at least one minister have now made it absolutely clear that not only don't they think we should get more powers, but many are now saying that the Barnett Formula should be scrapped too.

"We will get nothing without a fight - but we are up for that fight."