You might be forgiven for thinking that the ‘No’ vote has been rather complacent, given the sudden flurry of activity this week. The minute the Sunday Times published the results of a YouGov poll, we had a flow of opinions and politicians trying to recapture the vanished ‘No’ vote lead. Now the business world is starting to react to the news. Shaken by falling markets and questions about how to react to the possibility of mainland Britain’s political structure fundamentally changing this month, Scottish executives are reportedly making urgent contingency plans.
Prices on the FTSE 100 index were falling most of this week, with the companies experiencing the biggest loss in confidence being those with a Scottish base. This morning’s small market rise, reported by Reuters, is being credited to a new poll published yesterday evening showing that the ‘No’ vote was back up to 53%. There can be no doubt that the closeness of the vote is causing major unease for business and investors on both side of the border, let alone around the rest of the world.
Although there’s no evidence of plans for runs on banks, several banks are said to be already holding more cash at their branches north of the border, just in case. To be fair, the banks tend to do this whenever elections are believed to be volatile and too close to call anyway, but it does highlight how seriously the business world is starting to take the whole issue. The Bank of England is ready to react, whichever way the vote goes, and will remain the guarantor for all British bank deposits even if the ‘Yes’ vote wins until all negotiations are complete.
So far then, it would seem that the reverse is true, that the uncertainty over the vote is having an effect on business, despite attempts by business leaders to weigh in on the debate with open letters on both sides. The open letter supporting independence seemed to be better received, but that is probably more due to it chiming more with expressed public opinion at that moment.
And this is where the problem lies – most of the arguments being expressed are emotional. This is never going to be a debate about hard facts and figures, business stability and defence issues. It is why the initially high ‘No’ vote has dwindled over the last few months, because the idea of freedom is potent. The suspicion that no one is actually sure what they mean by ‘freedom’ is beside the point. The illusion of change is particularly potent given how everywhere has suffered under austerity measures across Britain and how the SNP (often dubbed the “Tartan Tories” by their political opponents) are now actively going after the Labour vote with pledges aimed squarely at the most unpopular policies brought in by the current government.
Perhaps it’s wise then that business leaders are reluctant at making more of a public involvement in such a charged debate. Perhaps they worry that the business argument will prove even more unpopular than the bedroom tax.