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Prosperity put at risk by ending the Union

Many employers in Scotland, businessmen and women, hoteliers and restauranteurs, B&B landladies and landlords, the whisky industry and farmers, despair at the thought of breaking up the United Kingdom.

Increasingly their counterparts outwith Scotland are feeling the same.

It is legitimate to wonder why. If we take it as a given that they want Scotland to succeed and that they want their businesses to flourish, why would they perversely reject a proposition if they thought it might help them prosper? For employers, it is the bottom line that counts and, if the bottom line shows signs of weakness, it will be employees who first suffer the consequences. No profit, no business, no jobs. It is almost as simple as that.

Sir Mike Rake, president of the Confederation British Industry, has stepped back into the fray with a stark warning that even the possibility of Scotland breaking away from the UK is one of the critical factors determining business risks; as, too, is the prospect of a British exit from Europe.

The UK's internal market comprises more than 60 million people and Scotland's biggest export market, constituting 65% of all exports, is the rest of the UK. Why take a punt on divorce when the only certainty is uncertainty and no cast iron guarantee of stability and prosperity? Sir Mike and the majority of people with business and financial interests in Scotland appear to be asking the same question. To date, no answer has been forthcoming.

Instead of tackling Sir Mike's arguments head on, those who support independence will question the CBI's role in the debate, challenge its impartiality and concentrate on the process rather than the substance.

Recently, the CBI sparked controversy when it voluntarily and unnecessarily registered as an official supporter of Better Together, no doubt on the advice of ever cautious lawyers. In the wake of complaints from mostly public funded institutions (why were they members of the CBI in the first place?) and a small handful of pro-separation businesses the CBI withdrew. But that debacle should not discredit the employers' voice. We might not always like what the CBI says but we should be able to call it to account and to challenge its way of working. But we need the CBI. It has never been a neutral voice. Its reason for being is to speak up in favour of business interests. When Sir Mike Rake worries about investment and jobs and dismisses the prospect of a cross-Border currency allowing Scotland to remain as a member of the sterling area, we ignore him at our peril if we believe the economic future of Scotland is important.

Why would an experienced business leader, of standing around the world, argue that the economic case for separation has not been made if he thought it had? In my experience, business leaders are pretty hard-headed and don't let sentiment get in the way if it boosts profit margins.

Social justice can be delivered only when there is funding to make it happen. However well-intentioned, progressive politics cannot be delivered without wealth creation and that is a vitally important reason why Sir Mike Rake and his business colleagues are so important. We need a flourishing economy, more jobs, more opportunities, better health and education policies framed and delivered in Scotland.

If only Kevin Pringle, the SNP's admirable director of strategy, was right when he says the present debate is about the extent of self government in Scotland.

It isn't. It is about breaking the social and economic ties of a 307-year old Union. It is about jeopardising bonds and business relationships forged over years, about erecting barriers where none presently exists. It is about replacing stability within the UK with uncertainty.

If the debate was only about self-government, the SNP would have taken their place in the Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 1980s and 90s. They would have participated in the Calman Commission underpinning the recent Scotland Act, and they would have said what they planned to do if the Scottish electorate did not support independence. A new era of equality, responsibility and modernity is attainable in Scotland without fracturing the UK.

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Business

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