Even a cursory glance at UK newspaper headlines over the past weeks and months would surely have left many Americans with the strong impression that finance jobs within Scotland are likely to disappear fast if Scots vote for independence later this year.
UK chancellor George Osborne’s ruling out of currency and banking unions with an independent Scotland, made during a flying visit to Edinburgh in February, was followed by a raft of stories in the media centered on some of the country’s largest employers.
The Edinburgh-based financial services group, which employs around 5,000 people in Scotland, warned it was setting up English subsidiary companies because of uncertainties over currency, regulation, tax and other issues surrounding independence.
Standard Life chairman Gerry Grimstone told the Guardian newspaper he was very proud of Standard Life’s 189-year heritage, but warned if anything were to threaten this, “we will take whatever action we consider necessary – including transferring parts of our operations from Scotland – in order to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders.”
Not unexpectedly, politicians in favor of maintaining the 307-year-old union between England and Scotland jumped all over his comments, claiming they showed how independence would be a disaster for Scottish jobs.
More prosperous and secure economy
Scottish government finance secretary John Swinney responded by saying the comments illustrated why proposals for a formal currency area were the right proposals and were in the best interests of business on both sides of the Scotland/England border.
He added, “Scotland has a strong and diverse economy and the point of independence is to win the powers we need to build on those strengths and create a more prosperous and secure economy – which is good for the financial sector and everyone else.
“When Standard Life previously expressed concerns about the consequences of devolution, these concerns ultimately proved to be unfounded and the company has successfully continued to grow its business here, underlined by the announcement just this month of a £75 million acquisition in central Edinburgh described as a ‘long-term investment’.
“Standard Life’s strengths lie in its workforce here in Scotland. We are very happy to engage with the company to address the issues raised in their annual report, and we look forward to the company continuing to play its part in building that strong Scottish economy in the future.”
Petty point scoring
The tit-for-tat nature of the independence debate has come in for some strong criticism from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) who urged proponents on both sides to stop petty point scoring. The criticism follows the release of a major survey by the SCC of Scottish business opinion on the issues surrounding the referendum.
SCC chief executive Liz Cameron said, “It is clear that businesses are distinctly unimpressed with the quality of the referendum debates so far, with 56% rating them as poor or worse. The various political analyses do not seem to be hitting the mark as far as business is concerned.”
There was a clear message, she said, that with four months left before voters go to the polls, politicians and campaigning groups needed to considerably step up their game.
And she added, “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.”