The SNP has argued that Scottish independence will benefit the nation's hospitality businesses. But how realistic is this? Janet Harmer reports
Any suggestion that Scottish independence would boost the hospitality industry north of the border is met with a vehement "absolutely not" by Norman Springford, chairman of Apex Hotels, which has five properties in Edinburgh and Dundee.
"The damage to Scottish hospitality and to the Scottish economy in general could be immense," he said. "Whilst there is agreement that reduced taxes can lead to economic prosperity, the prospect of fiscal autonomy brings no guarantee of a reduction in taxes, and the additional compliance costs will result in a huge burden for every Scottish company."
What is clear is that the hospitality industry is already a major contributor to the Scottish economy. According to the British Hospitality Association (BHA), the industry employs 222,081 staff or 8.6% of the total workforce - a figure that rises to 340,547 (13.1% of the total workforce) when taking indirect employment into account, as well. As a result, hospitality added £4b (or £8.6b including support services) to the Scottish coffers via wages and profits, during 2010.
But for the Scottish National Party (SNP), these figures could be boosted further if they successfully secure a "Yes" vote in the proposed referendum on Scottish independence, provisionally set for November 2014.
Chic Brodie, SNP MSP for South Scotland and a member of the economy, energy and tourism committee in the Scottish Parliament, said that independence will provide an opportunity for greater expansion of the industry which saw a rise of 8% in the number of visitors and 11% in the overall spend by visitors to Scotland, during the first nine months of 2011.
"However, tourism in Scotland can do even better - with independence, corporation tax would be slashed," he explained. "Lowering corporation tax in Scotland would aid our economic recovery by attracting business investment and creating jobs."
Andrew Fairlie, chef-patron of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, fully supported the SNP's stance, believing that Scotland would benefit in the same way that countries in Eastern Europe have from increased visitor numbers since achieving their own independence.
"There is much about Scotland that is distinct and different from other parts of the UK and as an independent nation we will give ourselves the opportunity to properly market and celebrate those differences to the wider world."
However, Beppo Buchanan-Smith, owner of the Isle of Eriska hotel in Benderloch, Argyll, said he believed independence offered uncertainty to potential visitors. "Already there is a misunderstanding in the marketplace as to the future of Scotland and how independence has and will affect our prices, tax rates and borders," he explained.
"Having recently returned from a sales trip to the United States, it was noticeable how many questions we were asked about the change in governance within the country despite no referendum having been set or decision made! Scotland has its own unique brand and identity within the UK and this is evident around the world, making independence unnecessary if individuality is the aim."
For Stephen Carter, managing director of De Vere Cameron House on Loch Lomond and the 2011 Hotelier of the Year, not enough detail has been published to know what its impact would be on the industry. He indicated there was little evidence that the industry was being affected by the current constitutional discussions and that people would continue to visit Scotland for the same reasons that they always have - for "the landscape, the cities, the culture, golf and whisky and, of course, the friendly people".
"Full independence could fill visitors with an intrigue to want to come even more to see for themselves if this new country is any different at all," he added.
Mark Greenaway, chef-proprietor of Restaurant Mark Greenaway in Edinburgh, perhaps summed up the thoughts of many as yet undecided voters. "To be honest I don't know enough about what would or wouldn't change if we got it," he said.
"As proud as I am to be Scottish and all it has to offer, I'm just not sure of the benefits or indeed the drawbacks of independence."
● If the proposed referendum returns a "Yes" vote, elections for an independent Scottish parliament could happen as early as May 2016.
By Janet Harmer
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