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Breaking up is hard to do

IT’S A CURIOUS PARADOX, but the debate surrounding Scottish independence is largely taking place in England. In fact, the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) election campaign for the Scottish parliament last year, which swept the pro-independence party to power with an unprecedented majority, was notable for rarely mentioning what in Scotland became euphemistically known as the “I word”. Soon after winning the election,

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond announced that a referendum on Scottish independence would take place in 2014, and there the issue has been more or less parked. The SNP wants Scotland to vote on two issues: first, whether they want independence; and second, whether they want to remain in the UK with beefed up powers, including fiscal autonomy. The UK government insists the

referendum should ask the first question only, although in a recent visit to Edinburgh David Cameron unexpectedly offered to give Scots much of what is implicit in the second question without even asking it. For Scotland’s construction industry the

debate hasn’t caught fire yet. In the grip of the worst recession in living memory,


Scottish independence is a simmering issue in Whitehall and Holyrood, but what does it mean for the construction sector north of the border? Michael Glackin finds out

Scots contractors are more concerned about where the next contract is coming from than whether it arrives in a tartan envelope or Whitehall manila. Scottish Building Federation (SBF) chief

executive Michael Levack sums it up by saying: “A decision on Scotland’s constitutional future will not be made for another two-and-a-half years at the earliest. In the meantime, we need immediate action to rebuild jobs, skills and capacity in our industry.” Meanwhile, Homes for Scotland, which

represents the country’s private house building industry, said in a statement: “It appears this item [independence] is on the agenda for discussion at our next board meeting in March so I am afraid it is a little early for us to be able to comment on this particular subject.” Added to that is the fact that Scottish

companies, and English-based companies that operate in Scotland, already do business in a place where planning, building regulations, public sector

procurement and even the legal system are different to the rest of the UK. Indeed, these differences beg the question of whether Scottish independence, or the halfway house of greater fiscal autonomy — so-called “devo max” — would have any appreciable impact on the industry at all. “I don’t see either making any change in

the way the industry operates,” says David Thomson, managing partner with construction and property consultant Robinson Low Francis, which has offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as elsewhere in the UK. “Construction is already different here, from planning right through to the way the public sector purse is managed. For example, many public sector contracts here are let through the Hub initiative and the Scottish Futures Trust, both very different procurement methods to those used elsewhere in the UK.” (see box). Even the green debate is different

in Scotland. Salmond has set out an ambitious plan to satisfy 100% of Scottish

“It is difficult to gauge the shape of

future inward investment, even if there were clarity on independence.”

Peter Jenkins, CIOB Scotland

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