TWO-thirds of business leaders north of the Border believe the Scottish Government is handling the coronavirus crisis better than the Boris Johnson administration, while more than three-quarters expect another independence referendum.

The views are revealed in a poll conducted yesterday by the Institute of Directors in Scotland at its first virtual annual conference.

Of 69 leaders who responded, 46 or 66.7 per cent answered “yes” and 33.3% replied “no” when asked if the Scottish Government was handling the coronavirus crisis better than the UK Government.

Asked whether they expected another independence referendum, 76.8% said “yes” and 23.2% replied “no”.

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Commenting on the answers to these two questions, tabled by The Herald, IoD Scotland chairman Aidan O’Carroll said: “The majority of delegates are of the opinion that overall to date the Covid-19 pandemic has been better handled by the Scottish Government rather than that of the national government. While the decisions made at the highest levels have no doubt been incredibly difficult to make, the local nuances are so important – particularly for directors who are looking for clear and consistent guidance and support to move forward.

“However, rather unsurprisingly, it has also created an environment where the independence debate has gathered strength. This is something IoD Scotland will continue to monitor closely and ensure that business leaders’ voices are heard throughout any movement towards a future referendum.”

IoD members include chief executives of large corporations as well as entrepreneurs and directors of public sector bodies, charities and start-up companies. The organisation’s membership is drawn from a broad range of sectors.

The polling also showed only 30.3% of business leaders view themselves as “very prepared” for Brexit. Meanwhile, 62.1% of the 66 respondents for this question say they are “somewhat prepared”. And 7.6% consider themselves “not prepared at all”.

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Asked what kind of support they would benefit most from in preparing for Brexit, 39.1% of 64 respondents said clearer guidance from government and 28.1% cited the need for “a clear outline on how supply chains will operate post-Brexit”. Meanwhile, 21.9% said financial support packages and 10.9% flagged the need for “advice and guidance around continued employment of EU citizens”.

Mr O’Carroll said: “These results show that, while businesses are somewhat prepared, there is still a way to go. With two-thirds of participants seeking clearer guidance both generally and specifically around supply chains in a post-Brexit world, the IoD will continue to advocate for this clarity for our members at the highest level.”

The UK is due to leave the European single market on December 31, when the transition period ends, having technically left the European Union on January 31. It remains in talks with the EU over a relatively narrow free trade deal. Fears of a no-deal departure from the single market remain elevated. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted on Wednesday: “Very serious divergences remain in Level Playing Field, Governance & Fisheries. These are essential conditions for any economic partnership.”

Business leaders were also asked by IoD Scotland what measures they thought would be appropriate to minimise infection transmission across local authorities of differing tiers, under the Scottish Government categorisation.

Making it “illegal to travel, except for clearly articulated exceptions” was favoured by 26.2% of 61 respondents, while 34.4% advocated advising against any travel outwith the boundaries. And 39.3% thought it was appropriate to “accept the risk of potential imported infections and keep the economies operating as normally as possible”.

Mr O’Carroll said: “With regards to Covid travel restrictions, much like we’ve seen with many issues in relation to the pandemic, there is a very clear divide across the extremes and the middle ground when it comes to opinion on the best course of action. This highlights the very challenging situation that the Scottish Government finds itself in when it comes to defining the best route for Scotland through these difficult times.

“Undoubtedly with each new restriction imposed, the greater the challenge it creates. To keep the economy and business open we must all do our best to strike the right balance between protecting health as well as protecting jobs and our business base. It will be critical to ensure the financial safety net is made available to all viable businesses [affected], and we continue to tailor our approach in a timely way.”