SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: Salmond said “serious business people” see the economic opportunity of independence yesterday, as he teamed up with captains of industry who are backing a Yes vote.
The First Minister hit out at “desperate scaremongering” about leaving the UK, which he claimed had been orchestrated by Downing Street.
His comments came as the head of insurance giant Aviva became the latest to warn about a Yes vote, claiming the costs of building projects such as schools and hospitals would go up.
Supermarkets Asda and Waitrose warned last week that prices could rise, but the First Minister insisted the retailers had been “gulled” into opposing independence by David Cameron.
Mr Salmond was speaking as he met business leaders including Stagecoach magnate Sir Brian Souter and former William Hill boss Ralph Topping at Edinburgh airport. The First Minister said: “We should embrace the view of the substantial and growing number of business people who see the fantastic opportunities for creating a more prosperous country and a fairer society.
“The campaign of scaremongering which the unionist parties in their desperation have embarked on is to deny reality.”
He added: “More and more of Scotland’s businesspeople and job-creators are backing a Yes vote because they know it is the only way we will get the economic powers we need.”
Mr Salmond said firms such as Aldi and Tesco rejected overtures from Downing Street to warn against independence.
“The Prime Minister’s fingerprints are all over the scaremongering campaign,” Mr Salmond added. “What troubles me is that the Prime Minister and Treasury are trying to get business organisations to state a company view – that’s extraordinary.”
Aviva chief Mark Wilson said yesterday that the firm would “maintain its commitment” to Scotland after a Yes vote, but it would face challenges.
He said: “The cost of borrowing to fund important public infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and roads, would almost certainly go up to cover the increased risk of being a smaller independent country.”
The bosses of retail giants Marks & Spencer, B&Q owner Kingfishe,r and Timpsons all warned at the weekend that their costs could rise in an independent Scotland.
And yesterday, a group of 13 of the country’s leading economic academics signed a joint letter warning of the dangers of a Yes vote.
They included Dr Simon Clark, head of the department of economics at the University of Edinburgh, and Christian Ewald, professor of financial economics at the University of Glasgow. “Our main contention is that Scotland is unlikely to be richer and fairer if there is a Yes vote in the referendum,” it stated.
“Our message is simple, the First Minister’s economic case for independence is not proven.”
But the pro-Yes Business for Scotland campaign has 3,000 members and insists Scotland can flourish outside the UK. Members include Sir Brian, Mr Topping, Scottish Enterprise board member Russel Griggs, Klin Group chief executive Marie Macklin and United Wholesalers chairman Mohammed Ramzan, who met Mr Salmond yesterday.
Sir Brian said: “You have to look at which businesses say this is awful and which businesses are saying this is a great opportunity. It’s the big corporates that are being cajoled by Downing Street to come out and put these scare stories around.
“I would say to the Scottish people, go with the people that are going to put their money where their mouth is – and I’m one of these people.”
Mr Salmond also played down comments from ex-SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars at the weekend that firms opposing a Yes vote could face a “day of reckoning”.
He said: “In the event of us winning this referendum on Thursday, the Friday will be a day of celebration and we will reach out the hand of friendship and magnanimity to everyone in Scotland – opponents, political parties, people in the No campaign and even those businesses who have been foolish enough to be gulled into the Prime Minister’s desperate campaign of scaremongering.”
But shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Alex Salmond likes to showboat for the international media but he has dismissed warnings of international experts that his plans would be dangerous for Scotland.”