Scottish Independence would be as big a blow to Edinburgh’s economy as a banking collapse, former Chancellor Alistair Darling has claimed.
He said the prospect of jobs being lost in the Capital’s financial sector and the knock-on effect on the rest of the economy if there was a Yes vote was “massively serious”.
But today leading Nationalist Jim Sillars dismissed his comments as scaremongering and said no-one should take Mr Darling’s forecasts seriously.
Mr Darling, Labour MP for Edinburgh South West and leader of the anti-independence Better Together campaign, was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the banking crisis hit six years ago. He said: “In 2008, I was extremely worried that if the banks had been allowed to collapse it would have delivered a hammer blow to Edinburgh’s economy.”
And he said he had similar fears about what would happen if Scotland voted for independence.
Insurance giant Standard Life said last month it was making contingency plans in case it decided to relocate from Edinburgh to England after a Yes vote. And there have been claims Royal Bank of Scotland might also have to move south to meet European Union rules.
Mr Darling said: “If you look at the private sector jobs in Edinburgh, they are nearly all driven by the financial services sector. It’s not just people who work in Standard Life or RBS, these people spend money in shops and bars and restaurants.
“The influence of the financial services sector on Edinburgh’s economy has been immense for 200 years. The problem is once one firm goes, the risk is another goes and you start losing the critical mass of people, the expertise you are dependent on.
“The reason Edinburgh is Europe’s fourth largest financial centre is because you have got people in investment, fund management, banking, insurance, pensions, you’ve got accountants, lawyers, all of whom need each other.
“Once a company starts thinking ‘Will I, won’t I?’ then the risk is people decide to go. You get the law firms saying there isn’t as much work here and the accountants and then the taxi trade saying there’s not as much business as there used to be.
“You can’t look at an economy like Edinburgh’s and look at one section and say ‘That doesn’t matter, I don’t work there’.
“It all has a knock-on effect on house prices, on standards of living. It really would be an absolute blow to Edinburgh’s economy and one we can’t afford especially at a time when things are very uncertain.
“What we were threatened with in 2008 was a complete collapse of the banking sector. Ask yourself: Why are we doing this? Why are we taking on these risks when we don’t need to?”
But Mr Sillars, a former deputy leader of the SNP, said: “This is the kind of scaremongering that has been going on since day one.
“No-one asks the key question: where is it all these companies are going to go? Everyone who has ever moved house knows what a difficulty it is – moving a major institution is a problem of an entirely different magnitude.
“Are they going to go to London, the most expensive real estate city in the world? Do their staff want to go where it is extremely expensive to buy a house? It’s high time people saw through this scaremongering.”
A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “Scotland is an excellent place to do business and will continue to be so after independence. Mr Darling appears unable or unwilling to take up the challenge to stop scaremongering.”