Interview: Robert Kilgour
Resisting the referendum
He arrives in Edinburgh’s west end with an apology for being late. There had been a flight from London, and a meeting in Dunfermline. He was due later that evening at another in Fife.
Robert Kilgour is a busy man for someone who admits he’s become conscious of his age and perhaps ought to be slowing down.
“I’ll be 60 in May,” he says with an air of self-disbelief. He grimaces, as if he’s just swallowed a wasp, then breaks into a smile. “However, they do say 60 is the new 50.”
It adds up to a long time as a serial entrepreneur, investor and property developer who founded Four Seasons Health Care in 1988. “Crikey, that’s 29 years ago,” he says.
Starting and selling businesses, particularly in the care sector, has become a speciality. In 2004, just a year before selling his final stake in Four Seasons, he set up Renaissance Care and remains chairman of the 12-homes business.
Over the years he’s set up Dow Investments, and been in at the beginning of a video security and a radio station (Kingdom FM). He holds a number of directorships and provides advice and consultancy to other firms, too numerous to list here.
“Actually, I’m about to start another business with a friend. Two old guys, we’re starting a tech company.” He smiles at the thought of starting again “at his age”.
He explains that it will “provide joined up services for carers and nurses” and has a small office in Kirkcaldy.
His never-ending search for new experiences has enabled him to build a big network of contacts across the country.
“It’s one of the great things about Scotland that if you want to get people together over an issue you can do so quite easily,” he says.
He’s now calling on that network to support his newest project: urging business to stand up against the prospect of a second independence referendum.
He says a hundred have so far signed a petition on a website he launched this month and he’s hoping some of them will go public. However, he admits that business people are often loath to get drawn into the political battle.
“Like last time some have said they can’t go public because they’re afraid they will be black-balled by the government. Some don’t want to make life difficult for their staff,” he says.
“However, there are some – at least a dozen – who are saying they will go public, including one SNP supporter who I am trying to persuade to speak out.
“Some are saying this referendum is just ridiculous. The economy is not in good enough shape and we need this like a hole in the head.”
Kilgour has put himself in the spotlight because he believes the business community has an important part to play in the debate and should not just sit on its hands.
“Scotland is potentially being driven off the edge of a cliff by the addict-like behaviour of the Scottish Government,” he says.
“The Scottish Government is not seen to be business friendly. It seems to view business as a resource to be used rather than as a partnership.”
He as launchd the website www.scottish-business.uk and though he says he will be active he is appointing a “spokesman” to handle enquiries.
“I am just a simple businessman who has spent 35 years attracting investment into Scotland. I would like to think I have created a few thousand jobs and I would like to continue doing that. But I have great concerns.”
He says investors are being put off from putting their money into Scotland while the current situation prevails.
“I know of people who are saying ‘don’t bring me anything to look at in Scotland until this is settled’.
“I am sure Scotland could survive as an independent country. But what sort of country? I just don’t think it is the best solution for its citizens.
“I am not throwing my toys out of the pram over this. I am not even saying there should never be an independence referendum, but it should not be until at least 2022.”
He reasons that by then the Brexit negotiations should have concluded and both Westminster and Scotland will have held general elections.
“It would also give us a few years of knowing what a Brexit Britain means,” he says.
Birthplace: Edinburgh, brought up in Fife
Educated: Loretto School, Stirling University
First business: Running a stall selling jeans and t-shirts at Ingliston Sunday outdoor market while still a student.
Founded the online political think-tank thinkscotland.org
Served on the CBI Scotland Council and the CBI UK SME Council.
Raises funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Has raised £2m over the last 25 years.
Divides his time between homes in London and Scotland.
Trying to compete with four adult children at any sport