This post is also available in: Japanese
By the time you read this, Scotland may have chosen to become independent from the rest of Britain. In that case, as we say in English, “the heart has ruled the head.” The opinion polls a week before the vote show it is very close, with many undecideds – those whose heads say “no” to independence, but whose hearts are excited by “yes” to becoming a separate nation again, in charge of its own destiny, after 300 years of union with the UK.
Businesses, Scottish and English, have finally started speaking out, mostly for the “No Thanks” side of the campaign, but “no” is not very appealing word and the reasons for “no” can sound like scaremongering. The future is uncertain for an independent Scotland. Not only will difficult negotiations start on whether and how Scotland will be able to keep the sterling pound as its currency, but also negotiations will have to begin with the European Union as to whether and how soon Scotland can become a member nation.
The UK is also less than a year away from a General Election in May 2015, which the Conservative Party is fighting on a promise of a referendum of the UK’s membership of the EU. The UK Independence Party, which supports leaving the EU, has done very well in recent local and European elections, so it is a real possibility that if the Conservatives form the next government, the British people will vote to leave the European Union.
It must seem odd to Japanese business people that British citizens would willingly vote for actions which might undermine the political and economic stability that has made the UK such an attractive destination for foreign investment. But it is that very history of stability that seems to give Scottish and other British people the confidence that somehow everything will be all right. We pride ourselves on being pragmatic, and that we will somehow “muddle through”. Businesses are making contingency plans for Scottish independence and no doubt for any Brexit too.
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is the second financial city in the UK after London, but even the Royal Bank of Scotland says it is considering moving its headquarters to England if Scotland becomes independent. The other major sector in Scotland, the oil industry, has been unnerved by threats of nationalization should the Nationalists gain power. All sectors are worried that corporate taxes may have to rise to fund the Nationalists’ progressive policies or else that Scotland’s creditworthiness will be affected.
Unsurprisingly, Japanese companies (and other non-UK companies) have not spoken out on the issue, as this would be counterproductive, but as many Japanese banks, construction and engineering firms have invested in social infrastructure projects in Scotland and the rest of the UK, the hope must be that even if Scottish hearts win the vote for independence, the famously “canny”, rational Scottish heads will prevail afterwards and British pragmatism will also avoid too much upheaval in the coming years of renegotiations with the EU.
This article was originally published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News on 1 October 2014 and also appears Pernille Rudlin’s new book “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” – available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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