SMALL businesses in Scotland are far more in favour of UK membership of the European Union than those in England, a survey has revealed.

High-profile debate about the likely impact of an EU exit in the run-up to last September’s referendum on Scottish independence is being cited as a possible reason for the far stronger support north of the Border for remaining part of the free trade block.

Research published today by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows that about three in five of its members in Scotland would vote to remain in the EU if the referendum promised by Prime Minister David Cameron by 2017 were held now.

The 59.9 per cent favouring a vote to remain in the EU is much greater than the 25.7 per cent of FSB members in Scotland preferring to leave the single market. Meanwhile, 11.9 per cent of the FSB’s Scottish members were undecided, and 2.5 per cent did not plan to vote, were not eligible or declined to give a view.

In contrast to the decisive overall view in Scotland, there was little difference between the proportions of FSB members in England that would vote to remain in, and opt to exit, the EU, with 45.1 per cent preferring to stay and 43.1 per cent wanting to leave.

A scenario in which the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU and people in Scotland opted to remain in the single market has been suggested widely as a likely trigger for a second referendum on independence.

A poll published last week by Survation showed that, excluding those who were undecided or would not say, 51 per cent of the UK public would vote to leave the EU, with 49 per cent preferring to stay. In Scotland, 51 per cent would vote to remain in the EU, according to the Survation poll.

Ahead of last September’s independence referendum, the Better Together camp was raising questions over whether an independent Scotland could remain in the EU. And the Yes camp was highlighting the danger of the UK exiting the EU as a result of Mr Cameron’s plans for a poll on continuing membership.

Colin Borland, head of external affairs for the FSB in Scotland, said he had been surprised initially by the scale of the support for remaining in the EU among members north of the Border.

He added: “However, I suppose we have had two-and-a-bit years of a referendum campaign where both sides were arguing that us not being a member of the European Union was a very bad thing.

“In light of that, it is perhaps not surprising we have an overall more positive view than other bits of the country where that debate hasn’t happened. During the (independence) referendum campaign, we spent a bit of time exploring what would happen if we left the EU.”

Mr Borland highlighted members’ concerns about no longer having free movement of labour in the event of the UK exiting the EU.

He said: “One of the big concerns that came through was about the free movement of labour, and people welcoming the fact that you have a lot of migrant labour from the EU.”

Referring to industries such as hospitality and tourism, Mr Borland added: “They really rely on that younger EU migrant workforce.”

Small businesses in Northern Ireland signalled a clear preference for remaining within the EU, with 54.2 per cent saying they would vote to stay and only 31.3 per cent preferring to exit.

In Wales, 49.4 per cent preferred to remain in the EU and 38.6 per cent favoured an exit.

Within England, support to remain in the EU was greatest in London, where 55.4 per cent of FSB members indicated they would vote to stay in the free trade block.

In the UK as a whole, 47 per cent of FSB members would vote to remain in the EU if the poll were held now, with 40.9 per cent preferring to leave and 10.7 per cent undecided.