ALISON Rose, chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland owner NatWest Group, reopened an old sore as she spoke to journalists about the institution’s first-quarter results last week.

Responding to a question from The Herald about the bank’s head office strategy should today’s Scottish election yield a majority of seats for the SNP, Ms Rose did not hesitate when she declared the institution would move its headquarters to London in the theoretical event of a Yes vote.

“We have been very clear, and it is recognised by senior nationalists, that in the event that there was independence in Scotland, our balance sheet would be too big for an independent Scottish economy, and we would move our registered headquarters… to London.”

While there was nothing ostensibly new in what Ms Rose had to say – the bank had been clear in the run-up to the 2014 referendum that it would shift its registered office from Edinburgh to London in the event of a vote for separation – her comments reignited arguments that are very familiar to anyone who has followed Scottish politics over the last decade.

They also set the scene for what would inevitably be another phase of robust debate on the effects a further referendum would have on Scottish business and the economy, should pro-independence parties win an outright majority today and press home the case for a fresh plebiscite.

There was a portent of things to come during the election campaign, at a hustings held by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Scotland. Asked how political parties could ensure uncertainty over Scotland’s constitutional future does not deter investors and hamper the recovery from coronavirus, the responses from those representing the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens were entirely predictable and led by the stance their respective parties take on independence.

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What would perhaps be more interesting to hear would be the views of those running businesses in Scotland, should the country once more be faced with a decision about its constitutional future.

While much of a future independence debate would likely run along similar lines to the build-up to 2014, there are some key differences this time around. Since the first referendum was held, the world has been hit by the Covid pandemic, and Scotland has been wrenched out of the European Union (despite every council area north of the Border voting to Remain in 2016).

Both events have engendered tremendous damage in their own ways. Covid has brought untold human suffering and economic dislocation, the extent of which has yet to become truly clear, while there is no sign of the red tape nightmare imposed by Brexit on Scottish exporters drawing to an end.

Economic forecasts point to Brexit being a major drag on the UK economy for years to come.

Given the magnitude of these issues, both would surely be among the biggest factors considered by voters should a new referendum be forthcoming.

The stated aim of the SNP is to hold a new referendum by the end of 2023, if it is successful in the polls today.

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Against this backdrop, would the prospect of a build-up to another vote on Scotland’s constitutional future be welcomed by the business community?

Would business regard the prospect of a further vote on Scottish independence as a help or a hindrance to the country as it bids to recover from the upheaval of recent months?

There can surely be no doubt that the recovery from the pandemic needs urgent and radical attention.

Although hopes are being pinned on a great wave of pent-up demand being unleashed following months of lockdown – and there certainly has been evidence of that since restrictions began being eased in Scotland last week – it is broadly held that it will not be until the middle of 2022 before activity returns to pre-pandemic levels in the UK.

In the meantime, there is significant scarring of the economy to contend with, whether that is in the form of mass unemployment or the impact on town and city centres, which have been devastated by months of lockdown and the absence of commuters who have been working from home in such vast numbers.

Statistics released by the Scottish Retail Consortium last week showed that shop vacancy rates rose above 15 per cent for the first time in the opening three months of the year, giving an indication of the enormous dislocation Covid has contributed so massively to.

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Of course, non-essential retail and large chunks of the hospitality trade are up and running again, which fuels hopes of economic recovery (albeit pubs and restaurants are still trading under restrictions). But it should not be forgotten that a huge element of the late-night economy remains shuttered, with no immediate prospect of it reopening.

The Night Time Industries Association, which represents nightclubs, live music venues and firms in the supply chain, has warned that 39,000 jobs are at risk because no roadmap has been provided for their reopening, while grant support for businesses has ended. It is pursuing legal action against the Scottish Government in the form of a judicial review, “challenging the validity of all legal restrictions being imposed upon hospitality and night time economy businesses in Scotland”.

These are some of the short-term economic issues Nicola Sturgeon must immediately address if she is returned as First Minister.

No one could ever accuse Ms Sturgeon of failing to treat Covid-19 seriously, but there has been criticism from some quarters over how the Scottish Government has balanced the needs of business with public health, even though at times it has appeared to be an impossible task.

In the course of the next Scottish Parliament, whoever is First Minister will face the task of managing Scotland’s recovery from Covid while also facing pressure from supporters eager to propel the case for a referendum on Scottish independence. That tricky balance is perhaps the main reason why the SNP has pledged to hold a referendum by the end of 2023 – an acknowledgement that priority must be given to the recovery from the pandemic.

However, it is hard to escape the feeling that many supporters of independence will ramp up calls for a referendum if today’s election settles in their favour – even with the recovery from the pandemic still so fragile. Whether the business community shares their enthusiasm remains to be seen.