Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Business figures clash with SNP MSPs

Business leaders have clashed with SNP politicians at Holyrood over the economic impact of independence.

One member of the parliament's Economy Committee was told to stop "badgering" CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan.

And another was pulled up for accusing Mr McMillan of engaging in a "polemic" against independence.

The exchanges came at the start of a committee hearing into Scotland's future, regardless of what happens after the 18 September referendum.

Mr McMillan, one of several figures who gave evidence to the cross-party committee, accepted Chancellor George Osborne's warning that the UK government would not agree to share the pound in a formal currency union with an independent Scotland.

He also talked about the "fragmentation" of the UK market, telling MSPs: "In terms of an independent Scotland, there would be every bit as much need to attack the deficit and deal with fiscal consolidation going forward and that of course would result in many difficult decisions about tax and spend.

"This would not be a land of milk and honey. It would be extremely difficult with many painful decisions to be taken.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The committee heard Mr McMillan's concerns about the ability of an independent Scotland to do a pound-sharing deal with the rest of the UK

"Of course in the future that may well change, and one would hope that it would."

Interrupting Mr McMillan's opening statement after almost 10 minutes, SNP member Mike MacKenzie asked him: "Have you any idea how long this polemic is going to continue for, because we do have questions."

The CBI Scotland director was also pressed by SNP MSP Chic Brodie on his previous criticism of devolution. Mr Brodie asked Mr McMillan: "You were wrong then, weren't you?"

Committee convener and Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser stepped in when the two men began talking over each other, saying: "Please don't badger the witness, let the witness answer the question."

Owen Kelly of Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE), Ian McKay of the Institute of Directors Scotland (ISD), Colin Borland of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Gary Clarke of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce also took part in the session.

Image caption The Scottish Parliament's cross-party economy committee has been looking into Scotland's economic future

Responding to further questions from Mr Brodie, Mr Kelly, chief executive of SFE, said devolution and independence could not be compared, adding: "I think you're comparing apples and pears.

"Most of the issues affecting our industry are reserved to Westminster. It's a completely different proposition."

ISD chairman Mr McKay said both sides were making too many promises on spending for the future, while Mr Borland, head of external affairs for the FSB in Scotland, said he wanted answers to practical questions.

Mr Clarke, head of policy at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said issues for his members included taxation, EU membership and currency, telling the committee: "It's fair to say there are risks attached to most of those areas, but it's also fair to say there are risks attached to most of those areas irrespective of whether Scotland becomes independent or remains part of the United Kingdom."

MSPs also heard from the Jimmy Reid Foundation think tank, which said the risks of independence had probably been overstated and were "largely temporary".