ICAS stages major Independence debate
Top politicians, commentators and business leaders take part in the ICAS Scotland's Future conference.
Political heavyweights, captains of industry and independent experts all had their say at the ICAS conference, Scotland's Future: An Independent Debate, held in Edinburgh today (19 June), in association with KPMG.
The conference, chaired by journalist Kirsty Wark, looked at implications for business of the Referendum on Scottish Independence due to be held on 18 September.
Danny Alexander MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, chose the event as a platform to launch United Kingdom, United Future, a UK Government paper summarising the arguments in favour of Scotland remaining within the UK.
Also on the platform, John Swinney MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth in the Scottish Government, made the case for Scotland as a successful, independent nation.
Opening the conference, he said: "An independent Scotland would start its life from a point as strong as any new democracy in history."
Mr Swinney cited a range of indicators, from GDP growth to the latest purchasing managers' index figures, to back his argument that the Scottish economy was in full recovery from the recession.
He added, however, that more would be possible if the Scottish Government had a fuller range of powers and economic levers at its disposal as an independent country.
These would include, he said, the ability to attract skilled migrants to boost the economy, to create a more efficient, simple and flexible tax system, and to introduce a competitive rate of corporation tax.
Although the three leading unionist parties had recently unveiled different plans to devolve further powers to Scotland, Mr Swinney said, it is still unclear what a No vote would mean in practice.
He said: "Unless Scotland is in a position to enjoy the fruits of its economic policies, the majority of the benefits achieved will flow to the UK Treasury, not to Scotland."
Danny Alexander said the series of Scotland Analysis papers produced by the Westminster Government, summarised as United Kingdom, United Future, could be described as "Project Fact".
He set out five key arguments for Scotland remaining in the UK, arguing that the Yes argument was flawed because: separation would jeopardise Scotland's economic recovery; there is still no workable plan for the currency question; Scotland and the rest of the UK are stronger when they can pool resources; Scotland would lose much of its influence in the world and separation would be permanent - impacting on more than 200 UK public bodies that serve Scotland.
Mr Alexander said: "I love Scotland, and because of that I want the best for Scotland."
Also at the conference, two senior directors from the engineering sector had contrasting views on the Independence issue.
Keith Cochrane, Chief Executive of Weir Group, summarised the results of a report his company had commissioned, that set out serious risks for business in the event of a Yes vote; while Jim McColl, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive of Clyde Blowers Capital, argued that accountants need to use the "right side of their brains" more and consider the real opportunities Independence would bring, not just the potential downside.
Alan Cochrane, of the Daily Telegraph, and Iain MacWhirter, of The Sunday Herald, provided a lively commentary on the campaign so far, and Mark Diffley, polling expert with Ipsos MORI explained what the polls are saying so far about voting intentions in the Referendum.
Jon Meeten, Head of Tax, Scotland with KPMG, talked about the tax implications of either Independence or further Devolution, and what businesses say they want from a tax system.
Bringing the conference to a close, ICAS Chief Executive Anton Colella thanked all the speakers and reminded delegates that the Institute's logo is "Quaere Verum" or"Seek the Truth", which is the approach ICAS is taking in the run-up to the Referendum.
He said: "I hope we've tried to play our part in this debate."