Update: Since publishing this blog two major figures in business have backed a YES vote including British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association CEO of the Year John Innes.
Innes intends to vote yes in next month’s referendum, noting that too many people use “change” and “risk” as synonymous terms. He says: “Many companies fail because of their inability to change”, he says”. “You stand or fall by your own efforts – you are not reliant on a third party. That maxim has always served me well in business.”
Now the outgoing boss of one of the UK’s most prominent companies has explained for the first time his decision to back independence for Scotland.
Ralph Topping, outgoing Chief Executive of betting giant William Hill plc and is one of Britain’s foremost business leaders with 44 years’ experience, said that a Yes vote will improve “life chances for future generations”. The company itself is neutral on independence.
“I firmly believe independence is the jobs opportunity of a lifetime,” said Scots-born Mr Topping, who lives in Scotland and will have a vote on September 18th.
Many of Scotland’s most successful businesses operate globally. They work across many countries. For them Scotland gaining full economic powers to improve economic growth is a positive or neutral step.
Where a handful have felt obliged because of a fiduciary legal duty to list even outlying risks in their annual reports – such as Alliance Trust, RBS or Standard Life – they have emphasised their neutrality and tended to refer not to the principle of independence. Instead they have emphasised the importance of the White Paper’s backing for maintaining the common market, a currency union and, in the case of the financial sector uniform, prudential regulation. All of which will remain after a Yes vote despite the scaremongering of the No Campaign.
There have been a handful of individuals with a history of opposition to Scotland’s democratic progress or with particular links to the Westminster establishment that have spoken out in a personal capacity. Shell UK, BAE, Thomas Cook and Weir Group are the only large-scale companies to take a corporate view. BAE says it would work with either outcome to deliver the best possible solution. Weir Group CEO’s Keith Cochrane’s long-standing personal views are well known and he’s entitled to put them forward. It doesn’t mean these views are shared by all shareholders.
In contrast, the likes of British Airways, Ryanair, Jupiter Investments, Stagecoach and Clyde Blowers CEOs have all expressed support for independence. However, the real story is how many are relaxed about the prospect. There is no doubt the Yes Campaign, and Business for Scotland in particular, has done a good job of getting its message across. When serious business people tackle the issues – as dozens of our spokespeople have – then that has neutralised much of the worst scaremongering.
No Campaign frustration, manipulation, scaremongering and desperation
So desperate the No Campaign has become they have been caught out by the Financial Times deploying a “deft use of the dark arts” in trying convince reluctant companies to enter the debate against independence. We know they are still at this. Likewise, against the growing tide of business support that is Business for Scotland, they have (very late in the day) appointed a new member of staff at No Campaign HQ to work on liaison with business and establish an anti-independence business group which remains nothing more than a twitter feed run at No HQ.
David Cameron is trying again to encourage business to ‘speak out’. We’ve heard a lot in the media about big business being opposed to independence, in some cases politicians exaggerating what companies have actually said, in other cases just putting words in their mouth. The problem for opponents of independence is that many large employers have already voiced their neutrality and in some cases support for many aspects of independence. Then there is a silent majority of large companies who have – despite claims from the No Campaign about ‘risk’ – said very little or emphasised neutrality on the question. The No Campaign’s response to that is something along the lines of “they are scared of speaking out”. Yet the likes of Rupert Soames and Keith Cochrane have made their views clear without issue.
The truth is most companies don’t see the establishment of another independent country in the context of a common market and increasingly globalised economy as a concern worthy of public pronouncement. You only need to look at the inward investment record of Scotland. We are at a 16-year high and Scotland is out performing every other region in the UK outside London. Every company that makes an inward investment decision calculates regulatory and political risk. In each of the 82 examples identified by Ernst and Young in their annual report on investment in Scotland, a major company has decided no matter the outcome of a referendum the result of which they know is difficult to predict, Scotland’s economy is worthy of significant investment.
Yes business support grows and there’s more to come
Meanwhile, now over 2,200 small and medium businesspeople have joined Business for Scotland in support of independence and polls consistently show rising support for a Yes vote amongst SMEs which of course make up 99.3pc of private sector businesses. The CBI has also been permanently damaged by its attempts to misrepresent the views of its membership. Some estimates say that over 50% of its Scottish members resigned following its misguided decision to register as an official supporter of the No Campaign. There is also growing evidence that Yes enjoys most support amongst the self-made entrepreneurs who see change as an opportunity and understand that either choice involves some element of risk and uncertainty to be managed. In the case of a No future for Scotland, this includes the increasingly likelihood of a UK exit from the European Union. For many businesspeople a Yes vote in September now represents the best way to ensure continued access to sell products and services in the common European market.
Big business is less frightened of independence than it was of devolution!
The position this time around is very different from the campaign for a Scottish Parliament in 1997. Back then business was almost exclusively sceptical to the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament. This time around the comments from the same companies who opposed devolution have been much more nuanced and in the context of some big names putting their weight behind a Yes vote. Here is what the biggest employers have ACTUALLY said about Scottish independence: British Airways Willie Walsh, Chief Executive:
On independence “it’s probably going to be a positive development, if it does happen, for British Airways.” BBC News, February 28 2014.
Ryanair Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive: Report: “Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary Backs Scottish Independence Due To Air Passenger Duty Cut”
Michael O’Leary highlights changes in the tax system as a benefit of an independent Scotland. Huffington, February 28, 2014.
Royal Bank of Scotland Ross McEwen, Chief Executive:
“As I said, let’s leave the people of Scotland to make the determination about what they want and, as I say, if I need to operate in 39 countries rather than 38, that’s what we need to do.” Channel 4 News, Jan 19 2014.
Last week Sir Philip Hampton said RBS would “continue to maintain [a] neutral position” in the run up to the independence vote. He insisted that in the event of a vote supporting a Yes vote, nothing would change the day after the referendum: “If there is a Yes vote there would be a period of time between the referendum and Scotland actually becoming independent when the UK and Scottish governments would enter negotiations.” The referendum was not raised at all in questions at the RBS Annual General Meeting last month. Bank of Scotland Mike Moran, Director:
“September is fast looming and it will be a big decision for the people of Scotland to make and, no matter what the outcome in September, we will continue to focus on serving our customers and our communities; so for us it’s no change whatever the outcome.” BBC News, June 2014.
Baillie Gifford Andrew Telfer, Joint Senior Partner:
“We do not take a political stance on this but we as a firm are committed to staying in Edinburgh whatever happens in the referendum,” “I really don’t want to be flippant about this but investment trusts have survived through world wars and depressions and so I am sure they will thrive after September no matter what the results.” FundWeb, May 12 2014.
Aberdeen Asset Management Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive:
“We haven’t planned for any changes because we’re of the view there’ll be plenty of time to plan after the event.” He added: “We’ve also decided as a company that we will remain neutral on the subject, because it is a decision for the Scottish people and, to a certain extent, there’s quite a lot of resentment if a business leader or a company does come out and give an opinion, so I think it’s very much remaining neutral on the subject and let the people decide in September and, once we know that, we will see what is needed. “But, at the moment, we have no plans to move our headquarters out of Aberdeen – we already operate in 30 countries round the world, so one more’s not going to make any difference.” BBC News, 6th May 2014.
Ineos According to BBC News, Jim Ratcliffe, Chief Executive of the company which operates the Grangemouth oil refinery near Falkirk, said the vote will not make a difference to the future of the plant.
He told the BBC: “[Grangemouth] will survive in both scenarios. I don’t think the Scottish vote will make any difference to Grangemouth one way or the other.”
Aviva Mark Wilson, Chief Executive says the company is neutral on the result of the referendum, making clear it is a decision for the Scottish people:
“Obviously we are looking with interest at what’s going on, but I really think that’s an issue for the Scottish people.We operate all around the world and we operate in many jurisdictions and in many places so I really think that’s not an issue for us to focus on.” The Herald, March 7 2014.
Lloyds Banking Group Antonio Horta-Osorio, Chief Executive:
“We firmly believe that questions about Scotland’s future and its constitutional position are a question for the Scottish people. When the vote takes place in September, if the vote is a yes vote there will be 18 months before separation occurs, so we believe we will have enough time to adapt to any change.” Financial Times, February 13 2014.
Results report, July 30 2014
“Looking ahead to the second half of the year, the Scottish Referendum in September is an issue that we will be watching with great interest. While we believe this is a decision for the Scottish people to make, the outcome could be of significant importance to the Group given that our registered office and more than 16,000 members of staff are based in Scotland, as well as our holding a significant branch presence through the Bank of Scotland and trading under the Scottish Widows business and brand.In the event of a ‘yes’ vote, the scale of potential change is currently unclear, but we have been undertaking contingency planning. There will however be a period between the referendum and the implementation of separation should a ‘yes’vote be successful that we believe is sufficient to address any material consequences and take any actions that we believe necessary.”
A spokesperson said: “The TSB Bank is registered in Scotland and will continue to be registered in Scotland,” The Scotsman, February 22 2014.
Clydesdale Bank David Thorburn, Chief Executive:
“As a company we have decided we will stay neutral on this because it is a decision for the Scottish people…We are just getting on with the day job…It is not distracting us at all.” Yorkshire Post, May 9 2014.
Barclays Bank Anthony Jenkins, Chief Executive:
“Independence is a matter for the Scottish people to decide. We think we can make it work either way as a bank.” BBC, February 12 2014.
Standard Life Gerry Grimstone, Chair:
“We have been based in Scotland for 189 years and we are very proud of our heritage. Scotland has been a good place from which to run our business and to compete around the world. We very much hope that this can continue”, Standard Life annual report, 27 February 2014.
Standard Life Investments is also reported to have agreed a £75 million development deal at St Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh. They described the deal as “a first class long term investment for our investors.” Business Insider, 17th February 2014. Standard Life also acquired Ignis Asset Management Ltd for £390 million as of 26th March 2014. Ignis is registered in Glasgow, where they employ the majority of their 360 staff. Another vote of confidence If you read the statement issued by Standard Life on independence it does not say anything about leaving Edinburgh in the event of a Yes vote. Instead, it talks about the potential need to restructure subsidiaries. but that’s only in the event of the No Campaign’s doomsday scenario of no common discussions through sensible negotiations. A UK Cabinet Minister told the Guardian earlier this year that his colleagues believe “of course there will be a currency union”. It is in the mutual economic interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK. This is independently established by world leading experts like Professor Leslie Young of Beijing University (through the Hunter Foundation), Professor Joe Stiglitz of Columbia University and Professor Jim Mirrlees of Cambridge University.
Leading finance figures Many finance industry figures have actually come out in support of independence, as the BBC reports BBC News – Scottish independence: Senior finance figures clash on independence.
Tesco Philip Clarke, Chief Executive:
“I don’t really know today how we will react because I don’t know what difference it will make. It’s unclear as yet. We’re the biggest retailer in Scotland, and our bank’s headquartered there. We’re going to be in Scotland if it’s independent or not.” BBC Radio 5 Live, May 6 2014.
Diageo Diageo is neutral. Paul Walsh, former Chief Executive, has said last month a Yes vote will make “no difference”:
“No difference at all. Scotch has been around for hundreds of years, it has seen all kinds of political changes. We’ll weather anything. Our decision to invest is based on the economics that we think the category will continue to enjoy’’. The Scotsman, August 24 2012 Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive, said that Scotland remaining part of the European Union is important because of the benefit from “free-trade agreements around the world”, but that the decision on independence was for “the people of Scotland to make”. We agree and the best way to secure that is a Yes vote. Mr Menezes went on: “What we will fight for is keeping our industry competitive and thriving, and we are very clear on what that requires.” He explained that Diageo is speaking to both sides of the debate on Scottish independence. “We’re being very proactive in ensuring the health of this industry is protected…Unlike other businesses, we cannot pick up and leave Scotland.” “We’re there to stay.” Wall Street Journal, May 29 2014.
Clyde Blowers Jim McColl, Chief Executive:
“It appears that only independence as defined by the Scottish Government, an independent nation within this social union and common market of the UK, will allow England and Scotland to pursue distinct economic policies in the face of different demands and competitive pressures.” The Scotsman
Roger White, Chief Executive of the company, based in Cumbernauld near Glasgow, said of September’s referendum on independecne: “We’ve been around for 140 years without getting into politics. Any political change can create risk – be that change in Westminster, Brussels or elsewhere. Once we have a clear and hard and fast policy, we’ll adapt as required.”
Brodies LLP Michael Stoneham, Partner:
“There seem to be some ways in which an independent Scottish Government following a Yes vote could help enhance the success of financial services businesses.” “The government of an independent Scotland could play a key part in redefining the essential cultural elements of banking, in a way that recognises the historic genius of Scots in this field”. The Scotsman, April 28 2014.
Jupiter Fund Management Maarten Slendebroek, Chief Executive:
“While the uncertainty regarding Scotland’s future is a concern for business in the short term, we see a significant long term business opportunity for Jupiter in Scotland. It has a vibrant financial services sector and is home to many of the wealth management clients we are targeting. That will not change, regardless of the outcome of a referendum.” Reuters, 24th March 2014.
Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson has said it is “not his place” to give a view on the Scottish independence referendum.
He told the audience at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre: “I really do think it’s for the Scots to decide, they need to look at all the facts in as much detail as possible, I think they all need to get out there and vote and whatever the outcome is I’ve got a feeling we’ll still be great friends.”
An interviewer pointed out that one of Sir Richard’s business rivals, British Airways boss Willie Walsh, has given a view on the referendum and said it could be ‘’a positive development’’ because of the Scottish Government’s plans to reduce air passenger duty by half.
Sir Richard said: “I think a 50% reduction in airline tax is maybe the first time I’ve agreed with him (Willie Walsh) about anything, I think all of our travelling public would be delighted about that.” The Scotsman, May 13 2014
Weir Group Independent research assessment:
BSkyB Graham McWilliam, Director of Corporate Affairs:
“Scotland will continue to be an important part of our business, whatever the voters decide in September.” “We like being in Scotland. And we have no plans to change that.” “The first thing to say is that the independence question is a constitutional one for the Scottish people. It’s not something that Sky takes a view on corporately. “I’m aware that many other companies have made statements in the media but we believe it’s best to leave the talking up to politicians and let the people have their say.” “The issue of independence is a constitutional matter for the Scottish people to decide through the forthcoming referendum and it’s not for us to speculate on the outcome. “We like being in Scotland having been there from the very start of the business 25 years ago. “We provide home entertainment and communications services to around 40% of Scottish homes and have more than 6,400 employees based in Scotland. We have no current plans to change that.” Statement to staff, April 1 2014
Waitrose Nigel Keen, Property & Development Director:
Independence “will not affect our expansion plans in Scotland and we are continuing to explore opportunities to build on the increasing popularity of our brand there”. Here’s why the media was once again caught exaggerating the views of supermarkets.
BP Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chair (in contrast to the personal view quite clearly expressed with some reluctance):
“The Chairman of BP – Carl-Henric Svanberg – has made clear that a Yes vote for Scottish Independence would not have “any major implications long-term” and stressed that “our commitment to the North Sea certainly continues.” As reported by Scottish energy news (April 14 2014). Meantime BP continues to invest in Scotland as planned.
British Telecom Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive:
“It is a matter for the Scots, first of all. We won’t be interfering from that perspective.” He added: “We will continue to have a business in Scotland regardless of the outcome. We have got a number of big customer relationships.” “We have got 7,500 employees in Scotland and we are used to working outside of England. We service customers in 170 countries around the world,” he said. The Herald, May 9 2014.
Parkmead Group Tom Cross, Executive Chair:
On independence “We manage technical and financial risks every day.” He says “It does’t faze oil guys.” Financial Times, February 5 2014. A poll of workers in the oil sector found 64% support for independence.
BAE Systems Reported by Jane’s Information Group:
“Geoff Searle, BAE Systems’ Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme director, said the company was now very much driving the single-site option on the basis that it offers the best solution both for cost efficiency and performance.” Mr Searle said “All of our planning is based on the assumption that we will build at the revamped Scotstoun facility.” IHS Jane’s, June 3 2014.
Aggreko has made clear it is neutral on independence and Rupert Soames, who has now left the company, was speaking in a personal capacity.
SSE Neutral on the referendum. A single UK energy market would be “likely” if Scotland becomes independent, according to SSE.
The company, which is the UK’s second largest energy supplier, issued a statement which said: “a single energy market in Great Britain would be the most likely outcome in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote”. The statement also recognised that post-independence negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments could be “complex” and might result in changes to the existing market. It went on to say: “SSE has already put in place arrangements to ensure that it takes account of this uncertainty in its decision-making and is undertaking work to ensure that it has a clear view of the issues that would arise should there be a ‘Yes’ vote, and is in a good position to engage constructively with the Scottish and UK governments in the event of Scotland ceasing to be part of the UK.”
The company is neutral. Individual analysts have issued different views on aspects of independence. One analyst described a currency union after independence as “optimal” and “common sense”
The company is neutral. Individual analysts have issued different views on independence. One analyst has said that a currency union makes sense.
Standard and Poors
The global ratings agency says Scotland would quality for its “highest economic assessment”
A currency agreement with an independent Scotland would be in the “best economic interests” of the rest of the UK, according to the global credit ratings agency. Fitch Ratings said it expected a compromise to be reached that was “not punitive for either party”, should voters return a Yes result in September’s referendum. STV, April 10 2014
Nigel Stein, Chief Executive told the national conference of the EEF manufacturers organisation that Scottish independence would not affect his company, but instead said the main threat to business came from the In/Out referendum pledged by David Cameron. The Herald, March 4 2014
Lord Wolfson, Chief Executive, has made clear independence would have no effect on how the company was managed: “I don’t think it would make any difference. We manage our business in Eire how we manage in the UK. We do not see Scottish independence as a business issue.” The Herald, March 21 2014
Stagecoach Stagecoach is neutral like most companies. It has as expected listed all potential future political change including the referendum and 2015 General Election as a potential upside and downside risk. Sir Brian Souter, Chair, said last week: “The preliminary results highlight to shareholders all areas where political changes could impact the business. The section which mentions the UK General Election and Scottish referendum does not relate to any particular outcome of either vote. As a company Stagecoach remains neutral on the issue of Scottish independence as it always has been. “I personally hold the view that independence will create a positive outcome for all companies in Scotland. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to apply the levers of independence to boost jobs, enterprise and create a vibrant private sector alongside a more caring society – which should always go hand-in-hand. That is why I will be voting Yes on 18 September.” Martin Griffiths, chief executive:
‘’I don’t think, from a group point of view and risk register point of view, it changes anything we are looking at” August 25 2012
Lord Smith or Kelvin, Chair, Green Investment Bank
“If it is a Yes, then I suspect that a lot of the acrimony would die down and people will say, ‘what are we going to do about this’. We are headquartered in Edinburgh and we have quite a big staff in London and I think people of goodwill are going to sit down and say – who wants to do anything that would get in the way of our progress? Not Westminster, not Holyrood, they will want this thing to continue – it is in everyone’s interest.” Holyrood Magazine, February 5 2014.
First Group First group is neutral on the referendum. In a statement to the UK Parliament, the company said:
“In this context, were Scotland to become independent, both Governments – in the interest of not only value for money, but in providing a seamless cross border rail service for passengers – would undoubtedly wish to work closely to achieve these goals. FirstGroup would be happy to provide both Governments with advice and assistance to ensure a positive passenger experience.” December 2012
Hendersons Global Investors
The group is neutral on independence and has invested in a new £850m development to transform St James Quarter in Edinburgh.
The No Campaign is tying itself in knots trying to explain why so few business people are supporting them on the campaign trail, certainly much less than expected. They are making up stories of businesspeople being worried or scared into silence but the people of Scotland can see right through that bluff. The truth is that businesspeople not traditionally connected to a political party are not willing to back up the ridiculous scare stories spun by the No camp. No serious (non politically motivated) businessperson would ever suggest there will be border posts or no common market with the rest of the UK, and most want and expect a currency union after a Yes vote.
The business community just like the rest of Scotland is moving towards supporting independence. Business for Scotland continues to contact hundreds of thousands of businesspeople in Scotland to persuade them of the benefits of independence to our economy.