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Alex Salmond has called big companies “foolish” for taking part in what he claimed was a campaign of scaremongering against Scottish independence orchestrated by Downing Street.
Faced last week with a barrage of business leaders opposing independence and suggestions the Queen is hoping for a No vote, Mr Salmond on Monday launched a typical counter-attack at the start of the final week of campaigning.
The Scottish first minister said David Cameron’s “fingerprints” were all over last week’s outburst of business concern about independence, saying Scots would “admire” companies such as Aldi and Tesco that had not joined in.
But he said he would not encourage a boycott of companies such as Standard Life, BP, Shell, John Lewis and Asda, which have warned of the dangers of independence to the Scottish economy or consumers.
Mr Salmond also dismissed claims by Jim Sillars, a former Scottish National party deputy leader, who said last week there would be a “day of reckoning” for companies that criticised independence.
“It will be a day of celebration,” Mr Salmond said, anticipating a Yes vote in Thursday’s vote. “We will reach out a hand of friendship to everyone in Scotland – even those businesses who were foolish enough to be gulled into the prime minister’s last-ditch campaign of scaremongering.”
Mr Salmond was speaking alongside a handful of pro-independence business figures at Edinburgh airport’s international arrivals area – a rebuff to those who claimed a Yes vote would herald a business rush to the departure lounge. He smiled for pictures with Brian Souter, chairman of Stagecoach, Ralph Topping, former chief executive of William Hill, and other business figures, but the line-up illustrated the extent to which the Yes campaign has struggled to match the No side’s cast list of FTSE100 backers.
Mr Salmond’s main line of defence is to accuse Mr Cameron of organising the business campaign and to maintain his criticism of the BBC for allegedly fanning criticism of the Yes campaign.
The first minister also repeated his call for Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary, to investigate why the Treasury was briefing RBS’s plan to relocate its headquarters to London before it had been announced to the markets.
Mr Salmond admitted he has urged individual business leaders to support independence but said he found it “slightly strange” that some companies were coming out for the No camp as a matter of policy without clearing it with their boards.
But he said: “For every Asda there’s a Tesco who made it clear there is no truth that prices will rise.”
Mr Salmond also dismissed as the fantasy of “the frenetic unionist press” suggestions that the Queen was backing a No vote after she told a churchgoer near Balmoral that she hoped voters would think carefully before they voted. “I think Her Majesty the Queen is absolutely impartial in this referendum,” he said. “I look forward to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth being Queen of Scots.”
As the campaign enters its final days, the rhetoric around independence and business is escalating. Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF manufacturers’ association, claimed that “a vote for independence could lead to Scotland becoming an economic wasteland”.
But pro-independence business leaders warned the real risk to Scotland’s economy was the prospect of Mr Cameron leading Britain out of the EU.