TOMORROW’S Scottish independence referendum will raise major issues for the North East whichever way the result goes.
That’s the message from North East Chamber of Commerce policy director Ross Smith as millions of Scots prepare to vote on whether to break the ties that have bound Scotland and England for more than 300 years.
With the Scottish Parliament set to be handed far more powers even in the event of a No vote tomorrow, political change north of the border would have a knock-on effect in the region regardless of the result, said Mr Smith.
“There are many questions yet to be answered in the Scottish independence debate, but the most important is how any future change across the border will impact on North East business,” he said.
“There is no doubt that an economically vibrant Scotland is good for the North East, but there is a lack of clarity and reassurance that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, the transition will be managed in a way that makes continuity of trade as easy as possible.”
Uncertainty surrounding the future shape of relations between England and Scotland was already having a detrimental impact on business, he added.
“A snap poll of chamber members revealed that 12 per cent of companies are putting off investment ahead of the Scottish independence referendum.
“We need our businesses to continue investing to sustain the recovery – the uncertainty that the referendum has created needs to be minimised.
“Quite rightly, it will be the Scottish people who will decide their own future but just how that future impacts on our companies remains to be seen.”
North East Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Paul Woolston said North East businesses had to be ready to work with a new, more powerful and self-confident Scotland, whether or not it remained within the UK:
“Our region’s common borders and natural cultural ties mean that, whatever the outcome of this week’s referendum, we want to see a strong Scotland going forward,” he said.
“The North East needs to be strategic in its outlook to make the most of well-established relationships in its future dealings with the Scottish business community and public sector.
“We trade well with our competitors, including Scotland.
“We should aim to find where we can strengthen alliances and joint ventures, and pursue synergies from infrastructure investment between the North East and our near neighbours as a priority.
“This week’s focus on an increasingly assertive Scotland underlines the importance of the North East effectively co-ordinating its efforts to appeal to private and public sectors in Scotland, the UK and globally to create new investment and more, better jobs in our region.”
Wearside’s three MPs are all backing the No campaign.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, who has family in Scotland, has been north of the border several times in recent weeks to urge voters to kick independence into touch.
It was in Scotland’s best interest to remain in the UK, she said.
“I am a passionate No supporter. I think it makes no economic sense to break up the UK. In the North East, we have much more in common with Scotland than much of the UK.
“It is not for me to tell people how to vote but it was important to go up there and say ‘We want you to stay.’
“The time to worry about the impact of independence was after the vote.
“We will think about that if it happens. You campaign to win.
“It is very close, but I think the No campaign will win.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said the Scottish National (SNP) Party had failed to explain the consequences of independence.
“Time and again, Alex Salmond and the SNP have demonstrated that they have no answers to the real questions over the future of a separated Scotland,” she said.
“It’s clear, therefore, that the choice facing the Scottish people is between greater devolution within a strong United Kingdom, or a complete leap into the unknown.
“In spite of that, the polls are still too close for comfort, and I would, therefore, implore Echo readers to contact any family or friends they have in Scotland today, and urge them to keep our Kingdom United by saying ‘No thanks’ to Alex Salmond’s hare-brained plan.”
Houghton and Sunderland South MP, Bridget Phillipson underlined how difficult it would be to reverse a Yes vote.
“Governments are temporary but the result of Thursday’s referendum vote will be permanent and irreversible,” she said
“I don’t want to wake up to find that over 300 years of shared history, trade and industrial heritage has been permanently shattered with an international border separating the North East and Scotland.
“More unites us than divides us and I believe the North East is better with Scotland, and Scotland is stronger as part of the Union.”