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Poll shows lower commitment to membership

Support for EU slips among Scottish business leaders

Liz CameronScottish business leaders have shown a weakening of enthusiasm towards EU membership within the last five months, according to a new poll of Scottish Chambers of Commerce members.

There remains a solid majority who would still vote for the UK to stay in the 28-nation group, but those who vote to say in “if the poll was held tomorrow” has fallen from 74% last September to 68%.

Support for leaving the EU has risen more markedly, from 13.5% to 20%, or one in five of those polled. Meanwhile, the number of those who are still undecided has decreased from 12% to 10%.

On the controversial issue of the timing of the referendum, the survey also showed that Scottish respondents have a preference for delaying the poll until September 2016 (25%), with slightly more wishing for the vote to be deferred still further until next year (26%).

However, 20% of respondents would be content for the poll to be held in June 2016, a date which some Scottish political parties have argued follows too quickly after campaigning for the May 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections.  Only 4.3% of those who stated a preference want the vote to take place in July 2016.

The poll, which asked respondents “What does the EU referendum mean for your business?” also gives a revealing snapshot of current Scottish business attitudes towards the EU, and of Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts to wrest the much-anticipated “reforms” out of his counterparts on the European continent.

When asked to rate the importance of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU to their business, 40.1% of businesses indicated that it was “very important”, while 20.2% stated it was “important”.  Conversely, 10.6% stated that it was not important and 6.9% regarded it as “not at all important”.

Areas of potential negative impact for Scottish business if the UK were to vote to leave, were ranked as follows: overall growth strategy (40.2%), company profitability (40.2%) and import/supply chain strategy (36.3%).

Out of the four objectives outline outlined by the Prime Minister as priorities for his renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the European Union, the three that respondents thought most likely to have a positive impact were:  Boosting competitiveness by setting a target for reducing the ‘burden’ of red tape” (63.0%),  “exempting Britain from ever-closer union”, “enhancing national parliaments’ ability to block EU legislation” (43.5%) and “ensuring that steps to further financial union cannot be imposed on non- Eurozone countries, such as the UK” (38.7%).

Scottish businesses seem relatively less concerned by the issue of restricting migrants’ benefits as an issue that could potentially affect their business. Just under a quarter (24.8%) state that an agreement to restrict benefits would have a positive impact, while 54.1% say that it would have no impact, and only 11.3% indicated that it would have a negative impact.

However despite all the political emphasis currently being placed on the details of David Cameron’s attempted renegotiation, the majority of businesses (64.7%) stated that it was “unlikely” that the outcome of the Prime Minister’s efforts would affect their voting intentions in either direction.

The survey also reveals little evidence so far that the Conservative UK Government’s decision to hold an in-out referendum on EU membership would in itself be a damaging distraction in the eyes of Scottish business. The majority of respondents reported that the referendum debate so far has had “no impact” on the following key aspects of their business:  business orders and sales (85.7%); ability to recruit new staff (91.2%); ability to attract investment (86.8%) or additions to the total costs incurred by their business e.g. overheads, staff costs etc. (86.9%).

Liz Cameron, director & chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce said: “There is no doubt that the EU referendum debate is being taken very seriously by the Scottish business community and we will continue to watch for shifts in sentiment.

“We hope that businesses will continue to study the issues and weigh very carefully the implications of staying in or getting out on job security and future trading opportunities.”

She added: “Growing Scotland’s exporting opportunities is a priority for business, irrespective of the outcome of the EU referendum.  Scotland’s exports to the EU fell by 7.8% to £11.6 billion, according to the most recent export figures but this still accounts for 42% of the international market for our goods and services.

“Scottish businesses will be keen to hear from both sides of the EU referendum debate as to how their competing visions would deliver more exporting opportunities and enable increased growth and competitiveness.”

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