“Great Britain is great and it ought to stay that way,” said Bob Dudley, Chief Executive of BP. In doing so he became the first business leader to openly pick a side in the battle over Scottish independence. But he also highlighted a major problem with the PR campaign for those in favour of retaining the union.
Any PR consultant or political advisor worth their salt will tell you that a campaign benefits enormously from credible third party endorsement. To date the ‘no’ campaign has struggled for such endorsement – not because its arguments are lacking, but because business leaders have been reluctant to nail their colours to what might be the mast attached to the ship that ultimately sinks. The problem has been compounded by the fact that the likes of David Cameron and William Hague are unlikely to get a favourable hearing in Scotland, limiting their opportunities to advocate the ‘no’ cause. The result is that the ‘no’ campaign continues to be voiced by Alistair Darling and a small number of others. And while Alistair Darling is undoubtedly a ‘big beast’, his audience dwindles as he repeats the same messages time after time.
Perversely, this is less of a problem for Alex Salmond, who despite gaping holes in his arguments and plans for the future of an independent Scotland, can capitalise on a sentiment amongst the population that the grass might be greener on the other side without Westminster.
The ‘no’ campaign will have to continue to push for, and hope that, further business leaders of similar stature to Mr Dudley speak out against independence – as this will demonstrate the practical disadvantages to the Scottish population more effectively that the economic warnings of Mark Carney and George Osborne. Otherwise, the campaign risks being one focused around Westminster. And while the polls might not be in Mr Salmond’s favour at present, this would give him a far greater opportunity.