The poll – commissioned by the Daily Mail – of 100 businesses with combined sales of more than £15bn and which employ thousands of staff showed that more than a third would consider quitting Scotland, possibly by moving operations elsewhere in the UK or by moving their legal headquarters south of the border.
The damage to Scotland’s £102bn economy of such a substantial relocation would be considerable.
Major financial firms such as banks RBS and Lloyds are likely to have to move their legal homes – their registered offices – to London following a European Union directive that they must be headquartered where most of their business is transacted.
Standard Life, regarded as one of the pre-eminent Scottish financial institutions, also said it could shift large parts of its operation out of Scotland.
However, the news that firms are already voting with their feet to pull out operations from Scotland is likely to have a devastating effect on the Scottish National Party’s campaign for independence.
Acting before the vote
A number of those questioned for the Mail’s poll said they were not waiting for the referendum result and had acted already.
“We have already taken steps to mitigate the political risk of the Scottish question and have moved trading business to London,” said the boss of one engineering firm. “Sadly, I have voted with my feet.”
Other firms said they believed the danger for the Scottish economy was already present in the run-up to the referendum, which was creating fear and uncertainty among the business community and investors.
“I believe real damage to our economy will happen during the run-up to the referendum through companies not wishing to commit and projects delayed,” said one respondent.
“I also believe that Scotland will go into economic doldrums for many years and that Scotland will operate in a very fragile and uncertain environment with the local, regional, national and European political parties all fighting for position and not worrying about the people of Scotland or businesses.”