As the presence of Scottish independence looms ever larger in the run-up to the September 18th referendum, many in the world of business and finance have begun to question what the outcomes of a “Yes” vote may mean for them.
It is a concern that has been addressed with no shortage of speculation in recent weeks, as every expert and industry spokesperson has sought to express their own personal interests on the issue.
From the British chancellor George Osborne suggesting that he did not think Scotland could keep the pound, to Standard and Poor’s stating that an independent Scotland would enjoy a triple-A credit rating – even before its oil revenue is factored in – it seems that views are, at best, contradictory.
These mixed messages may be confusing for Scottish voters looking for solid evidence upon which to cast their vote, but the confusion could prove utterly disastrous for any business trying to navigate through the turbulence of a potentially fracturing UK economy.
Until the polls have closed and the votes have been counted, everything is of course speculation. But plans have to be made for every eventuality, so it would be sensible to take a moment and reflect upon the possible outcomes of September’s referendum.
Assuming that the people of Scotland vote “Yes” in September and find themselves living in a newly independent nation, the first question that many will be left asking is whether the Scots will keep the pound. Chancellor George Osborne publicly stated that this would not be the case; that an independent Scotland would be forced to establish its own currency or adopt another.
As it seems unlikely that Scotland would be granted fast entry into the Eurozone, this could create problems for American businesses who hold existing contracts with British clients. An additional set of exchange rates, moving independently of the USD/GBP pairing, may render ongoing agreements unprofitable, or at the very least, would create an extra level of uncertainty in trading within these territories.
As if to illustrate this point, the Edinburgh-based pensions, savings and investment firm Standard Life has already stated it would be forced to leave an independent Scotland for this reason.
Many of the loudest negative voices are those from Fortune 500 companies, and their issues with Scottish independence are quite understandable. For a heavy multinational corporation, the threat of enormous and costly internal restructuring, along with the need to cater for numerous smaller territories as opposed to a single, powerhouse economy, is unlikely to be widely embraced.
So an independent Scotland without the pound will cause some terrible headaches for many companies, particularly those operating in the financial sector, or across borders.
However, there are some signs of hope for enterprises relying on a growing Scottish customer base into the future. First of all, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon has pointed out that, as a fully tradable currency, it would be all but impossible to block Scotland from using the British pound in any realistic manner.
It seems likely, then, that the independence movement has already acknowledged the desire to retain Sterling north of the border, at least in some capacity. It is an indicator that the Scots are keen not to put up barriers to commerce with the outside world, or to disrupt ongoing arrangements.
If Scotland were to retain the pound, if only for international trade relations, it will reduce the transactional friction that many U.S. businesses may be dreading.
Secondly, a smaller, mobile economy, working more closely towards the Scandinavian model may prove to be a tremendous boon for foreign enterprises looking for in-roads to the region. Scotland has both the means and the potential to be a wealthy nation. An affluent population with a disposable income can be fertile ground for any industry.
Whether independence in Scotland is a leap forward or a setback for American business can only be known with time, but it is certain that every challenge creates new opportunities for those quick and adaptable enough to turn events to their own advantage. An independent Scotland may be one such challenge.