Politicians debate impact of Scottish independence on Falkirk economy

The future of Grangemouth's industry in an independent Scotland is an important topic of debate for those living in and around the Falkirk district

The future of Grangemouth's industry in an independent Scotland is an important topic of debate for those living in and around the Falkirk district

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Next year voters will be asked a simple yes-or-no question that will decide the the long-term governance of our country.

The ballot paper will ask: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

It sounds a straightforward decision to make, but the reality is rather different. A recent opinion poll suggested that almost half of Scots remain undecided over how, or if, they will vote in the independence referendum.

There’s still plenty of time to make up your mind – the referendum does not take place until September 18, 2014 – but a common complaint from voters is that they currently lack enough information to make an informed choice.

With Scotland’s busiest commercial port and its only oil refinery, as well as the hundreds of businesses that support those enterprises, the Falkirk district stands to lose – or gain – more than most from a potential yes vote.

The Falkirk Herald asked some of the district’s elected representatives for their opinions on ‘the big question’ and what impact it could have on the local economy

Labour Councillor Craig Martin, leader of Falkirk Council, said that he did not see a groundswell of support for independence in Falkirk.

“When I’m out chapping doors, people seem more concerned about issues that are more pressing to them,” he said. “They are worried about the cuts imposed by the Coalition government, and the 300 per cent rise in youth unemployment.

“My personal opinion is that this is not the right time for a referendum.

“People would give politicians more respect if we stopped focusing on constitutional issues.”

Michael Matheson, SNP MSP for Falkirk West, argued that independence would allow unpopular cuts to be reversed.

“Independence is about putting our future in our hands,” he said. “All too often I find myself informing constituents that, as their MSP, I am restricted in what I can do to assist in their case as the policy has been introduced by the UK Government.

“A good example is the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’. This has had a significant impact on a number of my constituents despite it being opposed by a majority of Scottish MPs.”

The future of the industry centred around Grangemouth in an independent Scotland is certain to be a continuing topic of debate between now and next September.

Michael Connarty, MP for Falkirk East, said: “Major local businesses recognise the dangers of the other 92 per cent of the UK becoming foreign competitors for the eight per cent left in Scotland.

“Times are tough for oil refining and commodity chemicals from INEOS and other companies, which can only be made more worrying by the Scottish Government’s obsession with subsidies for renewable energy. Scottish companies and families would have to pay increased carbon taxes and renewable subsidies if these costs were no longer shared across the UK.”

But Angus MacDonald, MSP for Falkirk East, said Grangemouth was second only to Aberdeen in terms of gaining benefits from the oil industry.

He said: “Even David Cameron recently said the oil industry has a very positive future, stating it’s the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the UK economy. There is no reason to conclude our local industries would not continue to flourish.”

Falkirk is a key battleground in next year’s independence referendum and it has already seen volunteers, party members and politicians taking to the streets in a bid to get their message across.

With the district’s politics – at both local and national level – seen as a two-way fight between Labour and the SNP, the race is on to convince floating voters in Scotland’s fifth most populous urban area to declare themselves either in the Yes or No camps.

The official Yes campaign – which is made up of members of the SNP, Scottish Socialist Party, Green Party and other groups – has been a regular presence in Falkirk High Street on Saturday afternoons.

MSP Michael Matheson said: “There has been a very positive response to the campaign locally.

“Large numbers of people are signing the declaration to support an independent Scotland each week at the Yes Scotland stall in Falkirk High Street.

“I am confident that my constituents are capable of seeing through the negative scare stories of the No Campaign, and seeing the positive future that independence can offer.”

The Better Together campaign – which is arguing in favour of Scotland’s continued membership of the UK – includes members of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

It has also been out spreading its message across Falkirk.

MP Michael Connarty said: “As I have been going around Falkirk district, I have noticed support increasing for the Better Together position as people work out for themselves the negative impact independence would have. They are, like myself, proud of being Scottish with our own education and legal systems. But as the Scottish Government fails to answer key questions about the EU, taxes or the proposed currency, it strengthens support for Better Together.”