The No camp may still be ahead in the polls, but as the independence debate hots up many Edinburgh folk are starting to consider the implications of a Yes vote for our city.
It’s a big question because, irrespective of what happens to “Scotland PLC”, Edinburgh would see some huge changes. Many of these would be positive and are worth thinking about as the referendum date nears.
Perhaps most obviously, the scale of diplomatic missions would increase. New embassies and consulates would bring service sector jobs as well as wealth to the wider economy by the spending power of what is, effectively, inward investment in Scotland. Indirect benefits would include diplomats’ children enriching our schools and a more diverse, multicultural civic society generally. Similarly, it’s reasonable to expect that tourism and visitor numbers would be positively affected by Scotland’s increased visibility as a newly independent nation, bringing jobs to the Capital’s hotels, cafes and bars.
More significantly, new government offices would be created to fully administer all matters of state from pensions and benefits to energy and foreign affairs. And offices of EU institutions and our central bank (of whichever origin we decide) would be needed.
This environment would create exciting employment opportunities and help to reverse the famous, and very real, “brain drain” of talent.
Presently, too many bright Scottish kids are highly trained and then exported around the world, albeit voluntarily. This is an opportunity cost we shouldn’t need to pay.
Compare two great historic cities – Dublin and Liverpool. Both have faced significant economic challenges in recent years and have many other similarities. But only one is a national capital city with all the greater economic, political and cultural activity that such status implies.
How Edinburgh’s private sector would fare is a key question, and this would depend largely on whether or not a business-friendly economic environment could be created. Concerns have been raised of an economic “race to the bottom” under independence as Scotland and England slash wages and/or taxes to compete with each other. But competition is usually good for business, and minimum wage levels are regulated.
Yes Scotland suggest that Scotland would be well placed to attract new headquarters to relocate here and this is a reasonable objective when you add in favourable considerations such as property prices (still low by London standards), excellent schools and a good overall quality of life.
But the key challenge would be to develop and maintain a significant and sustainable SME sector, greater than we have at present. If we can, then the local economy would thrive and the whole city would benefit from full capital status.
While there are many potential benefits to Edinburgh of a Yes vote, there would of course be significant challenges, such as a need for better transport links to support the extra economic activity. And this economic activity would place even more pressure on the housing supply and property prices. Nobody wants to see homes in the Capital become even less affordable for ordinary working people. But at least under independence we’d have the economic tools to deliver on agreed priorities, and no-one to blame but ourselves and our politicians if we fell short.
• Jim Orr is an independent councillor for the Southside Newington ward