THE First Minister came to the Highlands with a positive message for businesses as the fight steps up for one of the key battlegrounds of the independence debate.
Alex Salmond was launching a new city centre base in Inverness for his independence campaign in the north and pledged small businesses would prosper in a stronger Scotland if he wins the referendum.
But days later a new poll showed 68 per cent of business leaders in the north east were opposed to independence and a poll of 1,800 members of the Federation of Small Businesses found nearly half of businesses said information from both sides of the campaign was so paltry it was impossible to make an intelligent decision about the future of the country.
Kit Fraser, owner of the Hootananny pub on Church Street, said he was “torn in two”.
“It’s a battle between the heart and the mind, the wallet versus the soul,” he said.
The entrepreneur believes small businesses would be worse-off financially, but possibly only in the short term. He thinks a smaller government would mean lower taxes.
He said: “Independence does not make financial sense as a businessman in the short term but on the other hand the Scottish personality is very different to the English. It’s much more socialist.”
He added: “In a way there’s a financial argument for independence. Everyone knows massive companies don’t pay tax. It’s the four million entrepreneurs who employ 60 per cent of the workforce who do that. But not as much tax would need to be raised in a small country.”
Mr Salmond said the 2,000 people who had joined Business for Scotland, a cooperatively owned business network for pro-independence business people and professionals, couldn’t all be wrong.
He added: “The greatest entrepreneur and job creator that Scotland has at the present moment is Jim McColl, who is a foremost advocate of Scottish independence. The greatest entrepreneur that Scotland has had in the last generation, Brian Souter of the FTSE 100 company Stagecoach, is a foremost advocate of Scottish Independence.”
Mr Salmond was greeted by a crowd of around 150 people at the Saturday morning launch, including several in kilts and a toddler in a T-Shirt bearing the message: “Make my future Scottish”.
The SNP leader cut a blue ribbon held by five-year-old Breagha Gowans, daughter of Inverness councillor Ken Gowans, and spent an hour signing copies of the Scottish Government’s white paper Scotland’s Future.
He said the new Union Street hub was one of the many Yes Campaign bases across the country that would help carry the party to victory on the September 18 – and said everyone was getting caught up in the whirlwind.
“I met two people today who left Scotland in a previous generation and who came back because of the excitement of the independence campaign. If that happens during the campaign what do you think is going to happen when we actually become independent?” he said.
The shop opened less than a fortnight after 60 pro-union supporters gathered at Castle Street to see Alistair Darling MP attend the launch of the Better Together campaign’s city base.