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Falling unemployment, higher numbers in work, upbeat business confidence surveys and Scotland set fair to top its pre-recession output peak this summer - what could go wrong? Just this, says Scot-Buzz editor Bill Jamieson - we are heading for troubled waters as the independence debate mounts in passion – and intensity.

Scary assertions, accusations of “bluff, bluster and bullying”, threats of debt obligation denial, impartial forecasts challenged on their impartiality and provenance; all this and five months still to go. Television debates are turning into a bear pit for participants.   

At an independence referendum debate in Edinburgh last night, fears were expressed over how these divisions would heal in the event of a close No vote on September 18. After such an intense campaign, can they be healed?

Sandy Finlayson, senior partner in corporate finance group MBM Commercial warned of Scotland heading for divisions as bitter as those in Ireland. “This issue”, he declared, “is creating the biggest schism in Scotland since the Reformation”.

On latest opinion poll readings we are heading for a close result, with the majority  for No to independence becoming ever slimmer.

If that is indeed the outcome, a large part of the population will feel disenfranchised – and frustrated. Are we really going to settle back to ‘status quo ante’ and life as before as if nothing had happened?

So far, there is little sign of significant adverse impact on Scottish business. We are enjoying our fair share of recovery.

But there is growing concern over the scale and depth of uncertainty now being faced. It’s the word that keeps cropping up in any discussion on the business outlook. And the area most vulnerable to persistent uncertainty is business investment and expansion.

Companies now have a potent motive to shelve and defer critical decisions on their future planning until the independence issue is settled. And such is the intensity of the battle now, that September 18 may be less the beginning of the end, than the end of the beginning.

It is not independence per se that troubles business so much as the uncertainty straight ahead.

And what is this “uncertainty” exactly?

A key reason why the debate has become so heated is frustration over the lack of answers on key points. We are, in effect, flying blind.

  • If you work for a Scottish company, or have dealings with one, we need to know what currency we will be paid in, and, if different to sterling, what extra costs and charges there might be.
  • If you work for a Scottish company or have dealings with one, we need to know what the tax regime is. Higher or lower? Simpler or more complicated?
  • If you work for a Scottish company or have dealings with one, we need to know if Scotland is in the EU or not. Or half way in? Or membership pending?
  • If you work for a Scottish company or have retired from one, what will be the pension arrangements? If you have saved through a private pension scheme with an English-based company, how will the EU regulations on cross-border pensions affect you?
  • If you work with a Scottish financial company or invest with one, we need to know what the regulatory regime is and what the investor protection arrangements are should anything go wrong.
  • And if a bank hits trouble (again) we need to know who is the lender of last resort?

These are not trick questions. They are not anti-independence questions. But for anyone doing business, it’s vital to know what the answers are!

Yet no-one can answer any of these questions for sure - not the Yes campaign, not Better Together, not the UK government, not the Scottish government.

And it’s not as if everything will be resolved on September 18.

If it is a No vote there will be will be intense clamour for more devolution to help unite the country. But what, exactly?

If it is a ‘Yes’ vote there will be protracted period of negotiation on dividing up the assets and liabilities. The mooted date for completion of these negotiations is spring 2016. Some believe this to be very optimistic, especially regarding matters related to the EU.

The closer we get to September 18, the greater and more urgent these questions become – and the greater the potential for uncertainty to inflict serious damage.

The mood, already troubled, could turn very sour. Somehow, over the next few months, we need as Scots to find the words and deeds to stop us flying apart.