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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Scottish independence would be 'bonkers' for businesses

A vote for Scottish independence would be “bonkers” and add to the complexity of running businesses along the border.

Alasdair Houston photo
Alasdair Houston

That is the view of Alasdair Houston who runs The Famous Blacksmith’s Shop and Smiths Hotel at Gretna Green.

He is worried by the momentum behind the ‘yes’ campaign ahead of the referendum on September 18.

Recent polls show support for independence at between 36 and 43 per cent.

Although the ‘yes’ campaign is still trailing, Mr Houston believes pro-independence voters are more likely to turn out.

He said: “I’m certainly not in the camp that wants a full divorce. We don’t do divorce at Gretna Green.

“It isn’t like a General Election where we can vote it back the other way. This is a for-ever decision.”

Mr Houston argues that full independence would be too risky, especially given uncertainties about what currency an independent Scotland would use and whether it could stay in the EU.

He said: “I’m not risk averse. Business people are used to risk. You have to balance risk to get a good decision.

“Scotland should have devolved powers. To go from there to saying it should be a full divorce from the country that has been our friend, ally, supporter and benefactor for more than 300 years is in my view bonkers.

“Scotland would have to compete in world markets with an ageing population, equivalent in size to that of Yorkshire, a pretty tiny corporate sector and high reliance on public-sector employment.”

If Scotland adopted its own currency, he argued, it would be difficult for Scottish employers to resist requests from employees living in England who wanted to be paid in sterling.

“It would add to the difficulty of running a business along this border corridor,” he added.

Mr Houston’s family acquired Gretna Estate in 1885. They still farm there and in Berwickshire.

The main part of their business is The Famous Blacksmith’s Shop, which attracts 750,000 visitors a year making it Scotland’s fourth most popular attraction.

He said: “I can find an argument for a ‘yes’ vote from a purely selfish perspective. Independence would certainly produce marketing opportunities and in the short term would increase Scotland’s profile.

“I’ve just re-opened the Old Toll Bar [as a cafe], the first house in Scotland right on the Border. What fun we’d have with that if it were the first house in a newly-independent country.

“But the big picture is more important.”

He says he considered long and hard before speaking publicly.

“I wouldn’t want to think after the event that I didn’t stand up and say what I believed in,” he said. “It’s far too important to keep below the parapet.

“That said, there are aspects of the ‘yes’ campaign I find distasteful.

“It has become incredibly divisive. There are those trying to create the impression that if you’re not for independence you’re not really Scottish.

“It’s incredibly frustrating because laymen like myself can’t believe the evidence from either side. On every subject we get dramatically different interpretations of what should be the same facts and figures.”

The majority of Cumbrian business are unfazed by the prospect of Scottish independence, a recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce Survey suggests.

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