There remain a large number of Scots in favour of more powers for the Scottish Parliament but undecided on independence, in many cases because they do not yet know enough about the two futures on offer.
From the business community’s perspective, there are presently two principal sources of information.
First, the UK Government has produced several papers through its Scotland Analysis Programme covering a range of topics from financial services and banking to defence and currency making a case for the British political and economic union.
Secondly, the Scottish Government has commissioned analysis by external experts and civil servants on various dimensions to the debate including the macro-economic framework, regulation, pensions, fiscal powers and boosting competitive advantage. In November, this work will culminate in a White Paper intended to address most questions and offer a vision for the future after a Yes vote.
All of this is progress, but I still have a concern around the lack of interest in and attention to this hugely important debate among the broader UK electorate, including my colleagues in British business.
It is not that I believe anyone else but the Scots should decide the referendum result. Instead, I recognise the extent to which Scotland’s decision has implications for the rest of these isles and therefore how much more people should at least pay attention.
Scottish and British
I was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire and grew up in Dundee, Scotland. When I took part in Channel Four’s Secret Millionaire programme I did so from Anfield in Liverpool. I proudly fought for the British Army in the Falklands. I consider myself both Scottish and British and I recognise that everyone in the UK has an interest in the outcome of this debate.
Neither Prime Minister David Cameron nor First Minister Alex Salmond argues that Scotland exists in isolation. The referendum result could, for example, lead to a treaty whereby Scotland and the rest of the UK share a currency which underpins most of the transactions in the City of London.
Both leaders recognise the ways in which Scotland’s choices are intertwined with the futures of its neighbours. The Prime Minister argues not that an independent Scotland is unviable but rather that both Scotland and the rest of the UK are better as a single state. The First Minister argues that the political union is broken and a re-shaping of the relationship will create a chain reaction of structural improvement in British society.
A debate for the whole UK
Its all very well reading the publications from both governments but if we are to properly understand how these contrasting visions relate to each other we need a higher profile debate. In my view, that is much more likely if David Cameron and Alex Salmond agree to go head-to-head after the Scottish Government publishes its prospectus.
We will all presumably benefit from hearing the country’s two most substantial political leaders debate one of the most important questions of our time. And only a debate between Alex Salmond and David Cameron can generate the kind of interest that should be forthcoming on both sides of the border.
Business understands that certainty is rarely possible and sometimes uncertainty is an opportunity. Some of the issues at play in this debate are complex. We need as much information as possible tested under intellectual and democratic scrutiny if we are to plan for any adjustments in the way we do business.
In January 2012, David Cameron decided to intervene in the process for deciding the UK’s constitutional future. Later that year, he and Alex Salmond signed the Edinburgh Agreement paving the way for a legally uncontested referendum. Since then, ministers from both governments have clashed on most of the hot topics but none of this has, as we say in Scotland, set the heather alight.
In 2011, David Cameron said “If they want to hold a referendum, I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre that I have.” That’s exactly the kind of passion and commitment required to bring out the best of arguments in any debate.
I would like to hear simultaneously from the UK’s two most passionate and capable political leaders, each of whom has a stake in the referendum result and heads a respective government arguing for Yes and No.
If there is a positive case to be made for Scotland remaining in the Union it should be articulated by the UK Prime Minister who, after all, is supposed to represent Scotland as much as the rest of the UK. Likewise, the First Minister should be offered a UK-wide platform to make his case to Britain.
If they can agree to such a format then I hope I’m fortunate enough to have a front row seat because it will be one of the most important moments in British political history.
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