By Gareth Poppleton, Managing Director, Retail Merchant Services
We are only days away from the vote on Scottish independence, the most important event to rock our shores for over 300 years. Whether Scotland votes Yes to independence or No to stay with the union of the United Kingdom will have a dramatic impact on all sections of society, most notably business. Many questions remain unanswered such as currency and wider economics, but what are the potential practical implications for small businesses across the country?
The issue of Scottish independence has divided the business community. In the run up to the referendum, 130 business leaders including Audrey Baxter, executive chairman of Baxter’s Food Group, and confectionary magnate A.B. Tunnock, signed an open letter to The Scotsman newspaper, arguing why Scotland should remain as part of the UK. Issues highlighted included the fact that the UK economy supports almost one million Scottish jobs; uncertainty on major issues such as currency, tax and EU membership; concern that independence will destabilise record investment and high employment rates; and that a truly United Kingdom provides a stronger business platform. Major institutions such as Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and Standard Life has all expressed an interest to potentially move offices to England if there is a Yes vote.
However, more than 200 business figures responded - also with an open letter - backing Scottish independence, published in The Herald newspaper. Stagecoach chairman, Sir Brian Souter, and former chief executive of William Hill, Ralph Topping, were among those who endorsed the benefits of leaving the UK, which include recognition for entrepreneurs in building Scotland’s economic future; encouraging and rewarding innovation and endeavour; more opportunities for young people; and the real threat to Scotland’s economy a British exit from the European common market would pose.
According to a survey by Vistage, 66% of small to medium sized enterprises are unconcerned about the potential impact of Scottish independence on their business, with some arguing that simplifying the tax system might make it easier to start up in Scotland. In response, there have been similar reports from the Federation of Small Businesses expressing concerns over independence. Tune into any TV or radio news programme and the debate goes on.
Though I don’t want to speculate on the outcome, it is worth considering how the business sector will be affected if Scotland becomes an independent country. One businessman based in Scotland who currently does 90% of business with the UK would effectively being exporting 90% of his goods if Scotland became independent. This would throw up a range of issues around pricing and currency, which could become prohibitively costly.
Similarly, Scottish independence could have a major impact on tourism and leisure, as the issue of a separate currency could cause inflation and therefore mean UK holiday makers stay away.
But whatever the outcome, good businesses will adapt to and embrace what lies ahead. It may seem overly simplistic, but the issue of Scottish independence fits into a standard PESTEL analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal). Businesses have always had to modify in light of changing issues - whether be it the rise of the internet or changing political administrations. Just as retailers that have not welcomed ecommerce or refused to accept card payments will likely dwindle, it is vital that businesses either side of what may or may not become a permanent border continue to work together for mutual success.