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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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital