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Caithness Chamber of Commerce publishes business survey on the independence referendum

Caithness Chamber of Commerce has today (Thursday) published the results of a major survey of Scottish business opinion on the issues surrounding the referendum on Scottish independence. The survey, developed in conjunction with Professor David Bell of Stirling University and conducted in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council’s Future of the UK and Scotland programme, focuses on a comprehensive range of issues including Scotland’s currency options, the opportunities and risks of independence, Scotland’s relationship with Europe and taxation. Businesses of all sizes and sectors across the length and breadth of Scotland participated in this key piece of work.

Commenting on the survey findings, Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said:

“This survey represents one of the most comprehensive measurements of Scottish business opinion on the issues surrounding the referendum on independence. Businesses of all sizes and sectors across the length and breadth of Scotland, including many here in Caithness participated in this major piece of work and the results make for essential reading.

“It is clear that businesses are distinctly unimpressed with the quality of the referendum debate so far, with the majority rating it either poor or dismal. With just four months left before voters go to the polls to make such a historic decision, it is exceptionally disappointing that the overall perceived quality of the debate has been so negative. At a time when our nation’s economic and social future is at stake, we deserve better from our politicians and it is time for them to approach this issue with the respect and responsibility we deserve.

“For businesses, the referendum debate is characterised by the weighing of opportunities against risks and this remains a fine balance, with a majority of businesses identifying potential opportunities from independence (53%) but this needs to be balanced by over three quarters (77%) identifying potential risks. There are lessons here for both sides of the referendum debate. Politicians often characterise the decision we will make in stark terms and the reality is that many people in the business world cannot relate to this. We must also take into consideration that views can vary depending on who we trade with, and the fact that there are sectoral differences. The language of the independence debate has to change and businesses expect to be engaged in a meaningful discussion that relates to the cost of doing business in the future – we need specifics.

“What is clear is that businesses are actively preparing for the potential outcomes of the referendum, with almost a quarter of businesses having already changed business decisions as a result of the referendum and almost half saying that their business strategy would change if Scotland became independent. There is however a strong desire for more decisions to be taken by Scots in Scotland, whether or not Scotland becomes independent, with 22% of businesses identifying more Scottish appropriate policies from Government as the main business opportunity of independence, whilst 68% world welcome more powers for the Scottish Parliament inthe event of a ‘no’ vote. There is therefore a clear mood for change and 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.

“Much of the recent political debate has focused on the issue of the currency options for an independent Scotland and it is clear that for most businesses the preferred option would be to retain Sterling as part of a formal currency union with the remainder of the UK. Businesses perceive increased risk for their business around all of the alternative currency options and this must be addressed by both the Scottish Government and the UK Government as the debate moves towards its conclusion. In particular, the Scottish Government must set out its detailed contingency plans for our currency now as the likelihood of the UK Government agreeing to a post-independence currency union has reduced.

“Membership of the European Union is extremely important for most Scottish businesses irrespective of the outcome of the referendum and we call upon the Scottish Government to detail the processes and timelines they will undertake in order to ensure continuity of EU membership and allow businesses to plan for future investment. The UK Government must address the concerns of the 61% of businesses who believe that leaving the EU, whilst remaining in the UK, would have a negative impact on their business.

“In terms of the key issues for businesses, these remain similar but heightened as the referendum draws closer. Currency has jumped to the top of the list of the most important issues but just behind this are Business Rates and Income Tax, which are either entirely or partially devolved, yet Scotland’s politicians have not brought forward any ambitious plans to tackle these areas. Whether or not Scotland becomes independent, we need a new radical approach to the reform of Business Rates, which are unfit for purpose at present. All parties need to make this commitment now.

“The economy has long been identified as the key issue in the independence debate and Scotland’s businesses have now given a comprehensive assessment of where they stand. Politicians on all sides now need to listen and to respond to the challenges that have been made.”