• MySTV

Industry leaders want more detail on independence 'business plan'

Independence White Paper 'not a business plan' but a 'political manifesto' says Icas chief.

Independence referendum White Paper close

Leading figures in tax and finance have called for more detail from the Scottish Government on its business plan for independence.

The SNP administration's formal document, known as a White Paper, was described as more of a political manifesto than a detailed route map.

Concern was also raised about the clarity of its statements on tax policy.

A range of views, supportive and critical, were heard at a conference set up to look at what the paper means for business, one week after it was unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond.

Atholl Duncan, executive director at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas), said: "Accountants want to see the evidence. They want to see the numbers; it's in their DNA.

"So as a political document, the White Paper may be deemed by some to be excellent. That's for others to judge. But it's not a business plan, it's a political manifesto."

He questioned central SNP proposals such as growing the economy by cutting corporation tax.

There is "political wriggle-room" in statements about a "timetable" to cutting the rate by up to 3p, he said.

"The White Paper says this will create 27,000 jobs, but lower corporate taxes are not necessarily the main driver. There are many other factors which influence corporate decision making about where people will locate and create jobs.

"That's why we see a corporate tax rate of 30% in Germany and yet it's one of the UK's main competitors for inward investment.

"While lower corporate taxes are a good thing, they don't on their own create thousands of jobs."

It is not certain that the EU or rest of UK would "allow" such a cut in a currency union, he said.

"Our conclusion is that the White Paper gives us more detail but perhaps, as you'd expect from a document of this size, it raises many, many new questions," he said, insisting his organisation will remain neutral in the debate.

David Glen, a tax expert at PWC Scotland, said the wording could be clearer in the White Paper.

"This is one of these points when you look at the White Paper there's a certain level of detail, but perhaps it doesn't go to the level of detail that we all might want," he said.

"You can perhaps understand that; we're three years away. Is anyone going to lay down hard and fast policies?"

But certain phrases, particularly on taxation, require further explanation, he said.

Mr Glen drew attention to a pledge that there will be no need for Scotland to raise the general rate of taxation to fund existing levels of spending.

"What does general rate of taxation mean? Is it basic rate? Is it average rate?" he asked.

"Don't assume your tax is going to stay exactly the same. I think that insinuates that overall it might be the same but there might be some rebalancing throughout."

David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, said Unionist political parties have a responsibility to set out what will happen if voters reject independence.

"I'd like to see what they're planning for the Scottish economy," he said.

"There is a bit of a democratic deficit, and it's hard to argue with that in the White Paper, but that's not our concern. Our concern is not about politics, it's about business. There's a business deficit because one side of the argument is not giving us any alternative at the moment.

"No matter how flawed you may believe this White Paper is, you've got to have some other opportunities, and there's very little on that side of the case at the moment."

It is "worrying" that the debate may be based on whether people in Scotland want another UK Tory government, he said.

The White Paper, which runs to around 670 pages, sets out the SNP administration's aims for negotiating terms after a Yes vote on September 18 next year.

It also indicates what an SNP Government would do if elected as the first government of a newly independent country in 2016, with pledges to increase free childcare, scrap the so-called bedroom tax and remove Trident nuclear missiles from Scotland.

Critics say the paper is an uncosted wish-list which fails to answer the big questions on major change.

There is no guarantee that Scotland could keep sterling as currency and questions remain about how hard it will be to renegotiate terms for EU membership, opponents argue.

Finance Secretary John Swinney was among the speakers at the conference, hosted by The Scotsman newspaper. He pressed the case for independence based on a sterling currency zone with the rest of the UK.

"What we have set out is a proposition that enables us to establish a clear and firm sterling zone between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom that enables Scotland to exercise the type of economic and fiscal discretion of a greater extent than is able to be achieved at the present time," he said.

On the EU, he said: "I think it is inconceivable that the EU would seek to do anything other than welcome the five million citizens of Scotland who are already members of the European Union by virtue of our participation in the United Kingdom. Anything else would be essentially an absurd act to be taken in the face of a democratic decision by the people of Scotland."

Phil Anderton, a board member of Better Together, said "canny Scots" decided after 1707 that the Union would open doors to business. The advantages of the UK have been exploited ever since, he told the audience.

"Welcome to the real world of business where there are no wish-lists, there are no assumptions and there are no half-truths," he said.

"What we are talking about is the future of the United Kingdom and Scotland. It's a debate about the governance of this country, not about short-term party political pledges that we hear so often."

In the UK, Scotland enjoys easy access to its biggest market, it has direct power, shared infrastructure, and economies of scale, he concluded.

"If we were back in the boardroom and it was Scottish businesses reviewing the plans, I think they'd say this is a good plan for Scotland," he said.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on it's website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.


We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.


Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.


Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.



Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.