Scottish retailers have lashed out at plans to hold a second referendum on independence from the UK, complaining that it will create added uncertainty and hinder trading.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced on Monday that the Scottish government intended to hold the referendum towards the end of 2018 or in early 2019 – after the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union are known, but before the separation has actually taken place.
She blamed the UK government’s failure to “move even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement” with Scotland over Brexit.
Fashion and footwear independents and multiples based in Scotland were quick to condemn the proposal.
“I don’t like the idea and I certainly don’t like the economics,” said Colin Temple, managing director of footwear retailer Schuh, which is based in Livingston but operates across the UK. “I think it would have a negative effect on the Scottish economy. There are one or two businesses in Scotland already toying with the idea of re-registering in London.
“People will always want to do business but another referendum would create distraction and uncertainty, and that tends to make people a bit more cautious about their spending.
“As part of the UK, Scotland is viewed as a big player on the world stage when it comes to trade deals. There’s a lot of romance in the idea [of independence] but I hope people will see the economic reality.”
Ian Angus MacKenzie, chief executive of Harris Tweed Hebrides, agreed: “In the short term it would create a lot of uncertainty and business hates uncertainty. We’d have to think very seriously about our investment plans if that were the case.
“Longer term it would be extremely concerning if there were a tariff barrier between us and one of our two largest markets: the rest of the UK. It would be a nightmare.”
Independent retailers were equally negative about a second referendum.
Jane Forbes, owner of womenswear independent Frontiers in Edinburgh, said: “I’m totally against Brexit, but I think if we separate Scotland it will cause more problems. Consumer confidence will be hit, because a lot of people in Scotland would be very confused and unhappy.”
“I think it will be horrendous,” agreed Lauren Ferguson, owner of Sisters Boutique in Falkirk. “It makes people so worried and nervous, so it stops people spending. They’re already worried about Brexit. We’ve already had the referendum and we said no. We don’t want independence.”
Sturgeon made the announcement on the same day MPs in Westminster gave UK prime minister Theresa May the power to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin Brexit negotiations.
Andrew Dick, owner of menswear independent Dick’s in Edinburgh, said: “I’m not sure if Scotland would be better or worse off if it were independent. Brexit is my biggest worry. The uncertainty in the market has been caused by Brexit and we’ve lost thousands of pounds as a result of the pound dropping, as we buy most of our brands from Europe.”
The Scottish government will apply to the UK government to authorise the referendum. In a statement released on Tuesday, it urged Westminster to respect the will of the Scottish parliament.