Panic has prompted businesses to speak out on Scottish independence

At the end of January I wrote an article for PRWeek that challenged Scottish businesses to contribute more to the independence referendum debate.

First-class communication? RBS spoke out after media pressure
First-class communication? RBS spoke out after media pressure

I raised the point that far too many leaders of businesses in Scotland were afraid to speak out because of the fear of a backlash by well organised "cyber nats" who demonised anybody who spoke out in favour of Scotland remaining part of Great Britain.

Well, with just a few days to go until the referendum takes place, Scottish business leaders, petrified by the suddenly all too real prospect of a ‘Yes’ vote, are suddenly finding their voice. And it appears that a great many have already booked the removal men to cart their wares south of the border if Alex Salmond triumphs on Thursday.   

The prospect of a corporate exodus to England has been met with a predictable response from the militant ‘Yes’ camp. Jim Sillars, former deputy leader of the SNP, promised on Friday that disloyal businesses faced a "day of reckoning" if the ‘Yes’ campaign won the day, and went on to a do a remarkable impression of Bolivian president Evo Morales by saying he would nationalise big oil interests north of the border.  

Except the real possibility of a ‘Yes’ vote is now so profound that business leaders don’t actually care what Sillars and his thuggish cronies say at this stage.

One might be generous towards the Better Together campaign and think that the wave of dissenting business voices has been a carefully orchestrated 11th hour rallying cry to win hearts and minds ahead of Thursday’s vote.

It is much more likely that it is the result of last-minute panic at the prospect of a nationalist triumph, which had hitherto seemed unlikely.

One is tempted to point out that if big businesses had articulated the economic dangers of a ‘Yes’ vote a bit earlier in the process, it might have deprived the nationalist campaign of its current momentum, but that has to be a moot point at this stage.

So we now have the unfortunate situation where business leaders with tens of thousands of employees in Scotland are rushing like panicking wildebeest to put out statements in a last-ditch attempt to spare themselves from Salmond’s administrations as the head of an independent Scotland.

If you think I am being a tad unkind, then take note of a sample of FTSE chairmen by headhunters Korn Ferry last week that showed that only a third of the UK’s largest companies had made preparations for a ‘Yes’ vote.

So spare a thought then for the tens of thousands of employees in Scotland who as a result are discovering their jobs might be moving south of the border from the pages of a newspaper.

Companies that are directly impacted by the referendum result now have exactly three days left to put in place an effective internal and external comms strategy that tackles all the implications for both a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ vote.

Those that fail to do so will have all the freedom they need to discover the consequences.

Andrew Murray-Watson is an independent comms consultant and former City editor of Scotland on Sunday


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