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Relax, you can safely ignore BP’s “warnings” about the impact of Scottish independence

4 February 2014

5:31 PM

4 February 2014

5:31 PM

Why, a Tory grandee asked me recently, won’t more businesses come out against Scottish independence? It was, in his view, axiomatic that independence would be bad for businesses north and south of the border. So why the silence?

Perhaps, or at least in part perhaps, because when businesses do raise their concerns they often contrive to present themselves as hopeless chumps. I am sure Bob Dudley, chief of BP, is personally committed to Britain but the idea, as expressed in an interview with the BBC, that Scottish independence creates “big uncertainties” for his business is poppycock.

Well, a kind of poppycock anyway. It would require BP to operate in another country and I can see why the petroleum giant would be happy to stick with the familiar status quo. But since BP is a global behemoth capable of operating around the world it does not seem improbable that it might be able to make the best of whatever disadvantages or inconveniences follow Scottish independence.

And, really, it is temporary and, in the grand scheme of things, minor inconveniences that we are talking about here. BP isn’t going to leave the North Sea, not while there’s still plenty of money to be made there it isn’t. And even if it did some other oil company would almost certainly take its place.

So this is silly. Indeed, you can make a plausible case that BP should actually welcome Scottish independence. The oil companies will have much more influence in a country in which they contribute approximately 15% of GDP than in one in which they account for 2%. In other words, if they won’t be able to write their own tax and regulatory regime they will have, shall we say, some considerable input into those arrangements.

The idea these uncertainties could not be resolved in some satisfactory fashion insults the intelligence of any future Scottish government and, just as significantly, BP itself. If this is crippling uncertainty then god help us all. The oil business, after all, is always an uncertain business and yet, despite that, BP soldiers on. Pluckily.

Anyway, if you are looking for a company that really might leave Scotland should it find independence awkward then that firm is the Royal Bank of Scotland or, as it would henceforth be known, RBS. But that’s a conjecture for another day.


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