Head to head: Andrew Fairlie and Beppo Buchanan-Smith on Scottish independence

Monday 4th March 2013 12:17

As Scotland gears up for the 2014 referendum on whether it should become a sovereign country, we ask two leading operators what independence would mean. Chef-restaurateur Andrew Fairlie sees an independent Scotland enjoying greater flexibility, while hotelier Beppo Buchanan-Smith fears the move would threaten the stability of the tourism industry

Andrew Fairlie

Andrew Fairlie, chef-patron, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Perthshire

In 2014 the people of Scotland will be asked to vote in a referendum on whether they want to remain part of the UK or whether Scotland should be an independent country. As a Scot, I believe that the people best placed to make that decision are the people who live and work in Scotland.

I would like to begin by defining the term independence as far as Scotland is concerned: independence would allow the people of Scotland to make the decisions that will affect and improve the lives of families, communities and individuals across the whole of Scotland.

Currently, Scotland has limited powers devolved to its parliament in Edinburgh regarding issues such as health, education and justice. The big decisions – foreign policy, taxation and defence – remain with Westminster.

Keeping the debate to tourism and the hospitality sector: since devolution the Scottish Government has been able to deliver some really positive changes; but only with complete independence can Scotland hope to fulfil its full potential.

Tourism is one of Scotland’s key industries and a major contributor to our economy as well as one of its biggest employers. Since the inception of the parliament in Edinburgh, tourism has continued to grow year-on-year both in visitor numbers and spend. This is largely due to the Scottish Government’s willingness to invest in initiatives such as the Year of Homecoming in 2009 or the Year of Natural Scotland in 2013, which promotes Scotland as a destination of outstanding natural beauty. It has also been hugely supportive in the successful bids to host the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup in 2014, which are estimated to boost the Scottish economy by £160m.

New markets
The Scottish Government has also been a big supporter of the food and drink sector and has been instrumental in helping companies explore new markets such as India, China and South America. Scotland saw an all-time high of £5.4b in exports in 2011 in this sector alone, and has since run a very successful campaign entitled Scotland, the Land of Food and Drink.

But, with independence, we could achieve much more. An independent Scotland would have full control over taxation and revenues, which could be used to support the tourism industry. A system of VAT cuts for the tourist industry, which is already in place in many EU countries, could be implemented by an independent Scottish Government. Calls for such a measure have been made by the British hospitality industry as a whole over the past few years – including Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s Slash VAT campaign – but have been subsequently rejected at UK level. Scotland could lead the way.

If implemented at a UK level, industry experts estimate that the economy could be boosted by £4b per year, with the creation of 80,000 more jobs. A pro-rata share for Scotland would see the economy boosted by £350m and create nearly 7,000 new jobs. Personally, I would love to see these savings invested into meaningful apprenticeships and long-term training.

A yes vote for independence in 2014 would attract worldwide attention and reinforce Scotland’s rightful place as an international player and a top-class destination for world tourism. The rebirth of their nation state, one of Europe’s oldest countries, would not only have an enormous impact on Scotland’s extensive world diaspora, it would do much to excite and attract new visitors, too.

What’s more, an independent Scotland would be much more effective at promoting itself overseas through a distinctive diplomatic network capitalising on our strong cultural identity. It would also herald a strong new relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK, a partnership of equals, a fairer social union rather than a political one.

Beppo Buchanan-Smith

Beppo Buchanan-Smith, owner, Isle of Eriska hotel, Benderloch, Argyll

I am patriotic and, if asked my nationality, would always say I am a proud Scot before even considering myself to be British. However, with the debate on independence looming, it is essential that we all consider our positions carefully, because any decision in 2014 will not only have long-reaching and potentially irreversible effects on Scotland but also on those south of the border. It is, therefore, crucial that everyone involved strips out the emotion surrounding the topic and makes their choice based on the economic and strategic arguments.

The hospitality sector is uniquely placed in the midst of this debate as a substantial amount of our trade comes from outside our borders, and therefore the argument about where an independent Scotland would sit in terms of global trade is crucial. To date I am not convinced that Scotland would benefit from closer links through the EU to Europe, or indeed if we would be able to forge these links having separated from the UK, which already boasts these links – or at least does at present.

Major asset
If we were to join the EU independently, how would this affect our borders and our currency? The stability and certainty surrounding our current taxation levels and currency are a major asset in our ability to offer consistency to our overseas visitors, and the pound is an intricate part of this. The uncertainty surrounding whether we would be able to keep the pound or need to ally ourselves to the euro only touches on the changes that would be imposed in terms of taxation levels and governmental expenditure.

The struggle within the Eurozone only emphasises the need for those wanting a single currency to work towards a more singular political and economic system. So how can Scotland possibly believe that removing itself from the UK – but at the same time working with it to balance a currency – will allow for independent economic policy?

The Scottish hospitality sector is a major player in the make-up of the country, contributing significantly to the GDP and offering many employment opportunities in Scotland. However, the income amounts to less than 8% of the total income generated from hospitality in the UK as a whole. By working with the devolved powers the Scottish tourism industry has thrived by offering a unique destination and, at the same time, has benefited from its close allegiance to the UK and the strong voice of the industry at Westminster.

While Britain has one of the highest levels of tax on accommodation, simply cutting tax in one country does not guarantee that visitors will flock over the borders. Imposing more regulation and the living wage criteria – were Scotland to join the EU – would only increase costs and make our industry less competitive.

Our borders allow free movement around the UK in terms of clients, produce and employment, and many of these links will suffer from a changing and diverse taxation, legislation and investment schedule. If Scotland were to leave the UK, it might be forced to adhere to the Schengen Agreement, with no opt-out clause, and strict border controls, which would deter visitors and add complications to employment opportunities for those who currently help boost the hospitality sector in terms of both skill and numbers.

Employment should be freely transferable across borders, not fixed by government officials, and an independent Scotland would certainly end up creating barriers to free trade, whether physical or virtual.

There is one thing which I am sure the people of Scotland can all unite in, which is that the debate needs to be heard and the country needs to decide. Scotland is a wonderful, individual country, and I believe it is stronger as a country within the UK.


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