More than 130 Scottish business leaders have a signed a letter in favour of the Union. Photo: Getty
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Scottish business leaders call for No vote

More than 130 businesses have signed a letter in the Scotsman newspaper calling on Scotland to vote against independence.

Following a plea to Scotland from a list of 200 or so celebrities to vote No in an open letter to its population early this month, over 130 businesses have signed a letter saying the business case for Scottish independence “has not been made”.

The business leaders who signed the letter, which has been published in the Scotsman, head many signature, symbolically Scottish, industries in the country: Harris Tweed Hebrides, Glenkeir Whiskies Limited, The Scotch Whisky Association, University of St Andrews, Cairn Energy, Edrington (which owns the whisky brand the Famous Grouse) and Edinburgh University Press.

The signatories on the letter come from a wide range of industries, including food, drink, energy, banking, engineering, mining and technology. The heads of HSBC, Baxters Food Group and BHP Billiton, a big mining company, have put their names to the letter, which argues that, with the Scottish economy growing, it would be better for Scotland for it to remain in the Union.

Here is the text of the letter:

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR INDEPENDENCE HAS NOT BEEN MADE

The outcome of the referendum on 18 September will affect our generation and the generations to come. Much is at stake. Our economic ties inside the United Kingdom are very close and support almost one million Scottish jobs. The rest of the UK is Scotland's biggest market by far. As job creators, we have looked carefully at the arguments made by both sides of the debate. Our conclusion is that the business case for independence has not been made. Uncertainty surrounds a number of vital issues including currency, regulation, tax, pensions, EU membership and support for our exports around the world; and uncertainty is bad for business. Today Scotland’s economy is growing. We are attracting record investment and the employment rate is high. We should be proud that Scotland is a great place to build businesses and create jobs – success that has been achieved as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom gives business the strong platform we must have to invest in jobs and industry. By all continuing to work together, we can keep Scotland flourishing.

When I went to interview the shadow Scotland secretary Margaret Curran back in June in Glasgow for Total Politics magazine, it became clear during a trip around her constituency that business leaders were struggling even with the uncertainty caused by the build-up to the independence referendum.

We met the head of a local book distributor, which is essentially the trading arm of Publishing Scotland (the trade association for Scottish publishers). He told us:

“On the face of it, we think that a £10 book will be a £10 book if you buy it in England, but a £12 book if you buy it in Scotland… Oh, dear God, separation is an absolute nightmare. It’s not the move to independence itself, per se, that’s going to drive them [customers] away, it’s the uncertainty as we move towards that. It’s the threat of it.”

This is just one example of how not only independence itself, but also the prospect of it, is something the Yes campaign should consider when coming to the effect of the debate on business. The 130 businesses intervening today will certainly speak to both big and small businesses in Scotland, as well as to a number of people to whom they provide a service, particularly as many of them are heritage brands.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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