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Des McLaughlin

Des McLaughlin
Divisional Director, Grass Roots Meetings and Events

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12 Sept 14

Why Scottish hoteliers should vote ‘Better Together’

It’s time to nail my colours to the mast (for a change) and they are blue, white...and red.

Like the majority of folk living in England, I sincerely hope the vote is (or was by the time you may read this) to stay in the Union.

As a self-confessed free spirit - or if you prefer, a bit of a rebel - myself, I simply don’t buy the argument that the Scottish people will be better off - economically, socially or spiritually - as an independent nation.

The ‘freedom’ card is a misleading one. Who doesn’t want to be in charge of their own destiny? But let’s not get carried away with an emotional concept at the expense of practical reality. Let’s make sure we know what we mean by freedom.

Being part of the UK has a number of real benefits for hoteliers and all those living in Scotland. We remain the world’s sixth-largest economy and the second-largest in Europe behind Germany. As a consequence, we enjoy relatively low interest rates, low rates of unemployment, safety and security and, significantly, in my view, greater opportunity. And, with opportunity comes freedom.

The list of great Scots men and women whose horizons have been extended by the Union is endless. Being part of the UK has given more Scots more freedom, to fulfil their dreams, ambitions and talents - not less.

Alec Ferguson, Rod Stewart, Susan Boyle, Chris Hoy are just a few of the well-known names that spring to mind in the modern age.

Taking a more historical view, the much-maligned city of London has been much more of a friend to Scots than an enemy.

As David Stenhouse wryly points out in his book How the Scots Took Over London, the streets are paved not with gold, but with a road surface invented in 1816 by John Loudon McAdam. In the 19th century, it was Scots such as Robert Mylne who were designing half the bridges across the Thames. And I feel sure that many more Scots working in the hotel industry, have had their prospects broadened by the Union, than diminished by it. Similarly, Scottish hotels continue to benefit from mobile migrant workers in the same way as hotels in England do. What the SNPs points-based system means for immigration in the future is anybody’s guess.

Today it’s hard to find any compelling evidence that an independent Scotland will be good for business in general, never mind the hotel industry in particular. In a letter to the Scotsman newspaper at the end of last month, 120 prominent business leaders suggested that the economic case for independence had not been made. Among the signatories were HSBC chairman Douglas Flint and Co-operative Bank CEO Niall Booker, as well as dozens of Scottish CEOs from business ranging from fish and whisky, to technology and finance. The letter said: "Uncertainty surrounds a number of vital issues including currency, regulation, tax, pensions, EU membership and support for our exports around the world; and uncertainty is bad for business”.

After the YouGov poll at the start of this month showing the ‘Yes’ campaign edging ahead, billions of pounds were wiped from value of Scottish firms. Lloyds Banking Group suffered the worst hit falling £1.7bn in value as nervousness over, what was once an unlikely result, appeared suddenly quite possible. The pound - that Alex Salmond thinks he can keep - tumbled on the foreign exchange markets. By the way, how does it work, that an independent Scotland will still have the Bank of England as a lender of last resort? I’m a bit lost on this one.

Hotels are a vital part of the Scottish economy. But how secure will their future be if a ‘Yes’ vote is returned? Higher Interest rates, uncertainty on immigration, confusion over currency, the loss of business travel, higher food prices... the list goes on. The risk is enormous.

Things are far from perfect on both sides of the border. They never will be. But I simply don’t believe that they will be better for Scotland, or for that matter the rest of the Union, if Scotland leaves. For the sake of our industry and UK business overall, let’s stick together.

Any comments? Email Paul Colston
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