A Yes vote for Scotland would raise endless questions

The prospect of Scottish independence raises more problems for public affairs than it would solve.

Jo-ann Robertson: partner and managing director, corporate and public affairs, Ketchum
Jo-ann Robertson: partner and managing director, corporate and public affairs, Ketchum

The Scottish government's white paper on independence is nascent as I write and Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, continues to make promises that he is unlikely to be able to keep.

What will be the impact on business, politics and the public affairs industry of a Yes vote in September 2014? Just thinking about the prospect of Scotland severing its ties with the rest of the UK is enough to make most business people scratch their heads with bewilderment and simply ask why? An independent Scotland provokes two sentiments that most scare business - uncertainty and unpredictability.

What would it mean for business in the short and long term? What would be Scotland's currency? Would it have to negotiate membership of the EU and UN? Would those Scottish banks propped up on life support by the UK taxpayer become the sole responsibility of the Scottish taxpayer? Would there be a brain drain of talent? The questions are too many.

Public affairs consultants are working with their clients to try to answer as many of these questions as possible, but there will be unseen consequences for which no-one can plan.

Many suspect that a Yes vote would have a serious negative impact on the SNP as people faced up to the fact that so much of Scottish public spending unwritten by the UK taxpayer would have to be shouldered by them individually.

Out would go free university education, long-term care for the elderly and free prescriptions. The impact would be felt beyond Scotland's borders. In Westminster, Labour would be stripped of 41 parliamentary seats, whereas the Conservatives would lose just one. This does not mean that Labour could not adapt, but it would be a source of real anxiety and turmoil.

The public affairs industry would greet Scottish independence with caution. It is possible that more London-based public affairs agencies might consider establishing a base in Scotland, but in reality they will only adjust to suit clients' needs.

But if Scotland becomes a more niche market, then agencies will need to develop their offer, as they have in Brussels, and invest in people who really understand the emerging market. The huge contrast with Brussels is that the EU marketplace spans the breadth of Europe, while an independent Scotland would represent a small market tagged on the side of the UK.

Agency heads would need to ask a number of key questions: will it become a market for commercial growth? Will an independent Scottish government be in a position to offer preferential tax rates? Is the market already saturated with small specialist consultancies?

Scotland is a more appealing destination for business, talent and inward investment when it is an integral committed partner in UK plc. If Salmond wants to jeopardise Scotland's long-term future security, I hope he is candid with the Scottish people and tells them why in his white paper.

Jo-ann Robertson is partner and managing director, corporate and public affairs, Ketchum.

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