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Scots business leaders (finally) come down against independence

SNP leader Alex Salmond (r.) beat Alistair Darling, head of the 'Better Together' campaign, in this week's TV debate but didn't convince Scotland's bosses.DAVID CHESKIN/AFP--Getty Images

Over 130 Scottish business leaders came out publicly against independence, only three weeks before Scotland is due to vote on the issue in a referendum.

In an open letter published Wednesday in the daily newspaper The Scotsman, the businessmen and -women said that after a year of intense campaigning by politicians, “our conclusion is that the business case for independence has not been made.”

The intervention comes at a crucial time in the campaign ahead of the referendum, scheduled for Sept. 18. Although the pro-independence ‘Yes’ campaign, led by the Scottish Nationalist Party, has consistently trailed in opinion polls, a large number of voters are still undecided and can still be swayed.

It also has fresh momentum after SNP leader Alex Salmond was judged the clear winner of a head-to-head debate broadcast on national television on Monday.

The letter marks the first time that such a broad range of prominent business leaders have stuck their necks out in a campaign that has consistently run at a high emotional pitch, and occasionally descended into outright vitriol.

Individual companies such as Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and insurer Standard Life Plc have expressed concerns about independence publicly, and celebrities such as rock star David Bowie and J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, have been vilified for supporting the Unionist cause. But the concerns of such a broad swath of businesses may prove harder to shout down.

None of the signatories are household names outside the U.K., but they included representatives of the Scotch whisky industry, the engineering, financial and petrochemicals sectors, agricultural and fishery businesses.

“Uncertainty surrounds a number of vital issues including currency, regulation, 
tax, pensions, E.U. membership and support for our exports around the world; and uncertainty is bad for business,” the signatories said.

SNP, who is also First Minister of the devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, argues that an independent Scotland would have a natural right to both E.U. membership and continued use of sterling. Both of these claims are disputed, however, by E.U. officials and all the main U.K. political parties.

An independent Scotland would face higher borrowing costs unless it could reach a deal with the rest of the U.K. on using sterling after independence, international credit ratings have warned.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also, diplomatically, said Scotland would be better off staying in the U.K.