Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Business leaders and expert critical of governments

cash Image copyright PA
Image caption The Channel Four programme included claims against both the Scottish and UK governments

Business leaders and an academic have hit out at the Scottish and UK governments over their conduct in the independence referendum debate.

Criticism included claims they have been pressured to remain silent and of misrepresentation of information.

The two sides of the debate said the comments raised questions about the rival campaigns.

The claims, made in a programme for Channel Four, came ahead of the 18 September referendum.

The Dispatches documentary, entitled "The Great British Break Up?", contacted 50 companies and business leaders believed to have concerns over independence.

Five told the programme privately they had been contacted by the Scottish government and said they "felt pressured to stay quiet about their views".

Of the five;

  • one claimed they had been visited by a minister
  • two claimed they received a phone call from a minister
  • and two claimed they had received a call from First Minister Alex Salmond's office.

A further 14 claimed to know of other businesses who felt under pressure.

The programme also heard from London School Economics professor, Patrick Dunleavy, who previously said UK ministers misrepresented his research when they published its analysis of the fiscal implications of independence.

The economist later said the initial set-up costs to duplicate core Westminster functions would be around £200m.

Image caption Gavin Hewitt, former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, spoke to the Channel Four programme

He told Dispatches: "It's very hard to describe it in polite terms actually, it's very crude, it's alarmist, it's not been checked and it rests on a whole series of, you know, false steps . . . that makes this a very dubious document.

"A dodgy dossier, you might call it."

In addition, Gavin Hewitt, former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said he or senior members of his staff had met with SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, on at least six occasions over the past two years.

He told the programme: "He [Mr Robertson] and the SNP have regularly tried to get the message to the Scotch Whisky Association that the Scotch whisky industry should stay out of the independence debate.

"He was, I think, trying to neuter business comment. There was a genuine fear that in fact if we were seen to scupper by coming out publicly against independence, there would be retribution down the track."

Prof Dunleavy spoke to the programme, to be shown on Monday evening, after the Treasury used his figures to estimate it could cost between £1.5 and £2.7bn to set up an independent Scotland.

'Deeply troubling'

In response, Mr Robertson, who as MP for Moray represents a number of Scotch Whiskey distilleries, said: "I totally refute the allegations, especially given that both Gavin Hewitt and his successor, Peter Frost, have both said to me that they don't take a position on constitutional issues.

"Mr Hewitt publicly endorsed the case for a 'No' vote last month, which of course he is perfectly entitled to do."

On Prof Dunleavy's comments, a spokesman for Deputy Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added: "This programme will make uncomfortable viewing for the 'No' campaign and the UK government.

"This is not the first time Westminster has been accused of producing a 'dodgy dossier' in an attempt to mislead the public."

A UK government spokesman told Dispatches it had "cited several external sources" to provide context in its calculations for the set up costs.

A spokesman for the pro-Union Better Together campaign, also said: "It is absolutely vital that everyone has their say in the debate in our country's future.

"Businesses and other impartial voices saying that they have received phone calls or visits from SNP ministers in order to pressure them into silence is a deeply troubling development."

Image caption The Scottish Fishermen's Federation asked a series of questions regarding the future of the industry it represents

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, Bertie Armstrong, raised concern the Scottish government was using "intimidation", after his organisation wrote to Scottish and UK ministers asking a series of questions about the future of the industry, ahead of the referendum.

Mr Armstrong raised concern about the tone of a reply letter from Mr Salmond, in relation to the ability of EU boats to pass through Scottish waters under independence.

"Rough treatment doesn't bother me in the slightest but it just didn't answer the questions," Mr Armstrong told the BBC.

"It therefore seemed like something of a warning or something of an attempt at intimidation about asking questions, pursuing the questions that we asked or asking any further ones."

A spokesman for the first minister, said: "Mr Armstrong wrote to the first minister, who responded with a detailed, factual letter on EU fishing rights.

"That letter has been in the public domain for weeks - nothing in it could remotely be described as intimidating, and we urge people to read it for themselves to see that."

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