WELL, HERE WE ARE, September 2014, and we are finally confronted with making the decision on the most significant constitutional issue we will ever face – the first time in 307 years that Scotland has had the opportunity to chose between its status as an independent nation or to continue as part of the United Kingdom.
All of us will have a say. At least all those who live here do – including the 450,000 residents of Scotland who happen to have been born in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, but excluding the 850,000 Scots who although born here, now live in the rest of the UK, or the further 200,000 or so across the rest of the world.
Anyhow, my particular area of expertise lies in Scotland’s entrepreneurial and high-growth technology companies and the environment including the Universities, that sustains them. So what is the mood among these folks?
As regards University research funding the outlook is not at all clear. Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, says that an independent Scotland could stay within the UK’s research funding system, and as we currently do about 50% better than our ‘fair share’ proportion of funding any difference would be topped up by the Scottish Government.
However, universities ministers David Willetts and now Greg Clark, have made it quite clear that an independent Scotland would not be eligible to stay within the UK’s Research Councils and would have to set up its own system. Nobody knows what will finally be agreed.
As regards Scotland’s start-up community, many of our technology entrepreneurs don’t see the referendum as being particularly significant. Their markets are global and they assume that an independent Scotland would continue to be an open trading nation operating the same way that any other small European country does, like Ireland or Finland.
Indeed, an independent Scotland might well develop economic policies which explicitly favour entrepreneurial activity in an attempt to rebuild Scotland as a high-tech economy. It may be no coincidence that past Chief Executives of Scottish Enterprise such as Robert Crawford and Crawford Beveridge have both been associated with the SNP after leaving office.
When I was on the board of Scottish Enterprise it often became obvious that, compared to the incentives offered by our rivals at the Irish Development Agency we felt as if we had our hands tied behind our back. Clearly there were distinct advantages to being an independent country.
One colleague, who is a non-executive director of Scottish, Irish and US-based technology businesses has become a committed ‘Yes’ voter. He finds the Irish have not only successfully developed a range of HQs of major multi-national technology companies along with a range of ambitious start-ups but also a significant risk capital community, and he things that Scotland could do the same.
Another colleague who runs a successful technology services business in which over 95% of his revenue comes from the rest of the UK is an adamant ‘No’ supporter. He sees the whole exercise as a pointless distraction to doing business and threatens to move his company to England.
Another hugely internationally experienced Scot, who chairs a successful technology business that relocated from London to Edinburgh a few years ago is in no doubt - if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ he is off.
So what about myself? Well, I’m not going anywhere but how will I decide?
I really don’t know, and suspect I won’t until I finally enter the polling booth.