Scottish independence: Businesses face tough choice

By David Henderson
BBC Scotland business correspondent

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It's make your mind up time. Again.

Two and a half years after Scotland's first independence referendum, the prospect of "indyref2" looms once more.

And this presents another potential headache for Scottish business.

Last year's Brexit vote prompted some company bosses to reach for the aspirins, as they looked to an uncertain future outside the EU.

Now, others may be opening the medicine cabinet, for a different reason.


Brexit looks set to fundamentally change the way the UK trades with the continent.

Free movement of people, goods, services and capital - the four freedoms enshrined in EU treaties - won't apply to the UK after Brexit.

And the UK will most likely be outside the European Single Market and the European Customs union.

That risks disrupting Scotland's trading relationship with the continent - a relationship worth £12.3bn in 2015.


Some fear Scottish independence would have a similar impact within the United Kingdom, with a Yes vote creating a new relationship between Scotland and the remainder of the UK.

In 2015, Scotland's trade with the UK was worth £49.8bn. That's four times as much as its trade with the EU.

The SNP government stresses that it wants to prevent barriers to trade emerging between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.

But over time, different laws could create a myriad of changes to this level playing field.

Hard choices

Businesses tend to dislike political and economic uncertainty.

Little surprise then, that few Scottish firms were hungry for a dose of constitutional politics in the form of a Brexit vote.

And the prospect of yet another long-drawn out referendum campaign fills many business people with gloom.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold the vote between the autumn of 2018 and spring of 2019.

The prime minister, Theresa May, may want to knock back the timing of the vote even later - perhaps as late as 2020, after any Brexit deal is concluded.

That means years of uncertainty - and for business, an unappealing choice:

On the one hand, an independent Scotland, outside the UK, but looking to rejoin the EU.

And on the other, Scotland within the UK, but outside the EU.

There's no third option on the ballot paper.

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