Independence best for entire UK and CBI should know better: Tony Banks makes remarks at prestigious London referendum event.
Business for Scotland’s new Chairman Tony Banks will be speaking at the St. Columba’s Debate in London tonight to an audience of nearly 500.
Tony will make a separate speech to the audience before being joined later by MPs from the Yes and No Campaign to debate Scotland’s choice this September.
Tony will be joined after his speech by SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP in the largest referendum debate held in London to date. They will be up against Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael MP and Labour’s Margaret Curran MP. The debate will be chaired by BBC political correspondent Iain Watson.
Tony will highlight the positive benefits of independence to the whole of the UK not just for Scotland. He will also address comments today by CBI officials on independence which he argues do not reflect the views of its membership.
St. Columba’s Debate Speech by Tony Banks
Ladies and gentleman, I believe there is a vote for independence in the hearts of most Scots. But emotion apart, it’s vital we use our heads when deciding the course of Scotland’s future.
I recognise that within the UK our futures are intertwined. I care not only about my fellow Scots, but about everyone across these isles. I was born in England and when I appeared on Channel Four’s Secret Millionaire it was not from Scotland but from Liverpool. So let me explain why I am convinced a Yes vote in this year’s referendum will be good for Scotland – and the rest of Britain and Northern Ireland.
First, we have to tackle the blight of inequality. The UK is currently the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. The Fiscal Commission Working Group set up by the Scottish Government, whose number includes two Nobel economists, says that since 1975 the UK income gap has grown faster than in any other developed country. And inequality is of course one of the biggest inhibitors to economic growth.
Professionally, I am involved in the care home sector. Our company helps elderly people who need it. In doing so, we provide employment, pay taxes and create wealth. I, therefore, have a particular attachment to the belief that supporting those most in need is key to promoting broader economic health.
Fairness and prosperity are two pieces of the same jigsaw. This resonates with business people like me. For example, I want to hire bright, committed people with a vocation in caring – their socio-economic background matters not. It is also in the interests of a stable economy to have high levels of productivity – and that means giving everyone of working age a fair opportunity to realise their potential.
Next we need to consider whether the UK offers the optimal economic and political model to achieve greater equality – and sustainable economic growth. It is clear that in this respect the UK is not OK. We have a London-centric and short-term focused system that has failed to learn the lessons of the financial crisis or address sectoral, trade and geographic imbalances.
Population in London and the South-East is expected to rise by two million over the next seven years. But the latest economic figures suggest no improvement in the balance between manufacturing and services despite the concerns of senior figures on the left and right of politics, including Lord Heseltine.
These voices are not opposed to the growth of financial services in London or elsewhere. And nor am I. Rather, they recognise that London and the City’s sustainable success is as much dependent on the development of the wider economy.
A Yes vote this year can be the trigger for major reform that will be in the long-term interests of London and the rest of the UK. Westminster needs to recognise that by letting go and allowing other parts of these islands to compete and create wealth will benefit everyone. I do not want growth and success elsewhere at the expense of London or the South-East. I simply want the other parts of these islands to be able to compete more effectively in the UK and around the world.
The numbers don’t support the belief that London’s performance will trickle down to the rest of the country, be that the north-east of England or the Central Belt of Scotland. In other words, Scotland has a sound financial basis on which to prosper independently but our potential is constrained by the Westminster straightjacket.
Scotland needs the powers to compete and competition is good for the UK economy. Independence should be seen as a catalyst for structural reform across the UK. George Osborne worries about this because it involves change and he is more comfortable with the familiar.
That involves tailoring policy towards a City of London-led recovery pursued – not because it is necessarily sustainable – but because it retains power and improves the prospects of short-term political success in the South-East of England where elections are decided. But surely we must all think about the rest of the country and the ways in which our destinies remain intertwined.
I was not sure about declaring my views on independence so early in the debate – that was until Mr Osborne came to Scotland and continued the convention favoured by successive Westminster governments of trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
We have been told for generations that we were too poor and too small. Now, because those arguments have been disproven (Scotland more than pays its way in the UK and has done for decades), the same people pretend that everything about independence is complicated and difficult. They reckon if they muddy the waters enough, Scotland will bottle it in September.
But I don’t believe so.
In the end the referendum is about something very simple – the right to choose. Will we choose to take Scotland’s future into our own hands – or leave it with a Westminster system that isn’t working. As an entrepreneur my natural instinct is to take control of my own destiny and future. Even when, as an independent country, we are co-operating with other countries in these isles – whether it be on currency, pensions or financial regulation, we’ll be free to make choices that are in our interests.
My third factor is something we choose already – our national identity. Let’s be clear: a Yes vote does not mean the end of Britishness. It does not mean an end to the union of monarchy, the defence union through NATO, the currency union or the family and social unions of these islands.
What it means is a change to the political and economic union so we can have the economic powers to make for a more prosperous and fairer society according to Scotland’s distinctive priorities and goals. It also means maintaining Scotland in the European Union in contrast to the direction of travel at Westminster.
As a youngster growing up in Scotland I began to realise the extent to which we are capable of ploughing our own furrow in a way that works for all of us. When all the arguments are done about shared currency or North Sea oil, it boils down to whether we have the will and the self-confidence to build a better future.
I am proud to be British and will remain so after independence because I, not anyone else, choose my identity. I will cheer on Mo Farah at the next Olympics in Brazil because he is from the same island as me, where a common sense of identity will remain open to us all.
It does not matter whether he’s wearing Team England colours or not. I do not need to be part of an outdated political and economic union to be better together. I am a proud Scot who was brought up in a working class family. My dad was an RAF logistics sergeant and my mum a housewife. In 1961, we lived for a while in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, when I was the youngest of four. A few years later we moved back to Dundee. Later I joined the Territorial Army before being so inspired by the experience that I left university to join the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. A few months later I was fighting under a Union flag in the Falklands.
I remain proud of my roots, north and south of the Border, and of my dual identity. I believe that independence is in the interests of not only Scotland – but also the rest of the UK. In this sense, I support an independent Scotland not despite but because I am British.
There is one additional matter I want to address this evening.
That is the comments of the CBI today.
I represent the fastest growing business network in Scotland. We have grown our membership to over 1600 businesspeople in less than a year. Business for Scotland advances the interests of Scottish (not London) business and contributes positively to the public policy dialogue across the UK.
We believe independence is in the interests of business and that Scotland’s economy will thrive. Our ranks are filled not exclusively but mostly with businesspeople running SMEs. We recognise that SMEs are 99.3% of the Scottish private sector. They are the lifeblood of Scotland’s growing economy. Likewise, we particularly benefit from the support of self-made entrepreneurs who more so than other businesspeople see change as an opportunity, not a threat.
By contrast, the CBI represents very few companies in Scotland and mostly those based in London. Much more importantly, on the question of Scotland’s future, they have shown themselves to be part of the No campaign. And not an impartial or thoughtful organisation representing well the interests of their membership.
Where in their analysis issued today is a consideration of the benefits of abolishing air passenger duty? Supported not least by British Airways. Where is their consideration of the proposed measures to increase the workforce, to boost productivity by expanding childcare provision, to expand immigration to further strengthen Scotland’s balance sheet yet further?
Or their consideration of the White Paper’s plans to reduce business taxes with the powers of independence thereby attracting more business, investment and jobs to Scotland?
Where is their voice on the question of more women on the boards of companies? A policy the Scottish Government has made central to the case for doing things differently an as independent country.
All of these policies are articulated in the independence White Paper on Scotland’s Future. Yet all have been virtually ignored by the CBI.
The UK Government’s currency position has been torn apart by a world leading economist, Professor Leslie Young of Beijing University. Yet the CBI does not even mention this research from Sir Tom Hunter’s well respected foundation.
The CBI’s argument on the question of Scotland’s membership of the EU simply parrots the UK Government’s position with nothing about the threat of a UK referendum on EU membership. The CBI offers nothing at all on how to rebalance the economy to the nations and regions outside London, how to boost growth and productivity, how to expand exports and address inequality in the interests of prosperity for all.
They do acknowledge that Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and they do recognise that business across the UK wants a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK after a Yes vote . But otherwise they quite simply fail their own membership, very few of which support the CBI’s position against independence.
Indeed, they fail all of us by not contributing in a more constructive and balanced way to a healthy and worthwhile debate. The CBI was against the establishment of the Scottish Parliament using many similar arguments, which have been proven comprehensively wrong. The great floods never arrived. Nor did the plagues of locusts. In fact, Scottish business has found the devolved Parliament to be a great supporter of economic growth and business success.
The leadership of the CBI has left itself open to accusations of being out on a limb in a way not befitting of an organisation steeped in tradition. I am a member of the CBI and I believe its members and the nation deserve better.
We must have a measured dialogue. Almost as important as the result is the way we go about this discussion as citizens of Scotland and the wider United Kingdom.
I welcome tonight’s discussion as another example of positive dialogue and growing interest in one of the most important debates of our times.
Thank you for listening.
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