Former Labour trade minister Brian Wilson has launched an attack against Scottish government plans for independence ahead of the referendum vote. The retired parliamentarian who also held the post of UK trade and energy minister has heavily criticised Nicola Sturgeon less than a week after the Deputy First Minister visited the isles.
Mr Wilson arrived today to answer questions at a Ferry to the Referendum meeting staged by MSP Tavish Scott in the town hall.
He has also been meeting business representatives at Shetland Catch and Ocean Kinetics. But he slammed assertions by Ms Sturgeon at her highly-attended Q&A session that a “common sense” approach would be adopted over crucial matters such as currency and Europe.
“Common sense would say you can’t have shared common currency without a political union. That’s common sense. Common sense says the country state you’ve just walked out on is not going to be falling over itself to accommodate you. Why would you want, in the name of nationalism, to create a situation where we have no control over the currency we would be using?”
Mr Wilson, who chairs the company which produces Harris Tweed in the Hebrides, insists separating from the rest of the UK will be bad for business in Scotland. And he said the British brand meant more to customers in growing far-off markets, such as China, than the Scottish one.
“If you go to China, selling textiles, Britain matters – Scotland doesn’t matter. That’s not the name that sells. It does in some things – there are some specialisms. But, particularly post-Olympics, Great Britain is the stronger brand.
“That’s not to denigrate the Scottish brand. We want the Scottish brand as well – just as you would the Shetland brand. But why on earth would you throw away one of them?”
During her visit Ms Sturgeon dismissed a report that 130 Scottish business leaders had come out against independence. Instead, she cited the pro-yes organisation Business for Scotland, with 2,500 members.
Mr Wilson, however, was far from satisfied with that response. He described Business for Scotland as a “joke organisation” and a collection of “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers” which favoured a yes vote.
“I’m pretty sure you won’t find one significant exporter in their membership. It’s just a complete nonsense.”
Mr Wilson, who has been a UK business ambassador for several years working with overseas organisations, embassies and governments on trade issues, said the United Kingdom, whatever its imperfections, had “served us pretty well.”
“Government in Edinburgh is certainly not about bringing decision-making closer to the people. Because what they believe in is centralisation in Edinburgh. “What they want is the trappings of state. They don’t care what happens after September 18th. They want a separate state, full stop, and someone else can worry about the rest of it.”
Mr Wilson insists the Scottish government will be “rapidly held to account” if a no vote is returned on 18th September – not least, he says, because crucial issues have been overlooked as the race for a yes vote has progressed.
Yes campaigners have voiced concern about the level of privatisation experienced by the NHS in England and how much of that could seep north of the border if Scotland rejects independence.
However, Mr Wilson said the SNP should be addressing grievances experienced by patients rather than attempting to “frighten” the electorate.
“If you look at the satisfaction ratings with the NHS in Scotland and England, they’re identical – they’re both at 60 per cent. Surely the priority of the Scottish government should be to address the 40 per cent dissatisfaction, rather than trying to frighten people into believing the NHS in Scotland is threatened.”
He added there were key “synergies” between the NHS in Scotland and in England. He highlighted the former Scottish health minister, Sam Galbraith, who died last week and was “kept alive” for 25 years by Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.
Commenting ahead of the visit, Mr Scott said: “With just over a fortnight to go until the referendum, huge questions still remain unanswered over the uncertainties of independence and what it might mean for businesses in Shetland.
“Quite rightly, people deserve to know the facts before voting on what is such a hugely important decision. The vast majority of Scotland’s trade is done with the rest of the United Kingdom, so businesses in Shetland need to know how separation from this market will impact on their trade.
“Throughout his career, Brian has gained a wealth of experience in this area. A former UK trade and energy minister, he has a great knowledge of the Scottish economy having worked as a business ambassador for Scotland, and can provide a valuable insight into the realities of what independence would mean for Scotland’s economy.”