SNP leadership candidates have responded to key questions around business, the economy and the strategy for independence put to them by a major pro-Yes group.

Business for Scotland sent a list of 10 key questions to Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan and has shared their answers with The National.

They were pressed on issues such as the route to independence, whether the SNP should stand by the findings of the controversial Sustainable Growth Commission and whether the party had to “reset” its relationship with the business community.

Revive relationship with business 

Asked whether they accepted the “need to reset the SNP's relationship with business”, all candidates said they did and outlined how they thought that would be achieved.

Yousaf said the cocktail of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine had “ compounded the issues faced by businesses” and said he believed the government having a “strong relationship with the business community was vital for society.

He said: “I believe strongly that the best way to build a prosperous and fairer Scotland is to build a strong working relationship with business, as the needs of business, of government and our wider society, are aligned.

The National:

“We all have a shared interest in upskilling Scotland’s workforce and creating good quality jobs that deliver fair work and fair pay. We all have a shared interest in educational attainment, health and wellbeing, in research and development and in our infrastructure and resources.

“There is no policy area that exists in isolation, so we need to ensure that everyone with a stake in Scotland is around the table when taking the decisions that will impact us all. Business needs to be at the heart of that process.”

Forbes said as Finance Secretary she had already been “championing the case for working more effectively with businesses and, indeed have been attacked in some quarters for doing so”.

She added: “It is clear to me that the relationship must be reset. Along with others in my team such as Ivan McKee, I have sought to engage regularly with the business community – yet the perception remains that there is more work to do.

“As part of my role as First Minister, I would first set up a variety of listening events and establish regular meetings with key representatives. It will be vital to engage on a regular basis with a range of business leaders and ensure that this community has confidence that their needs are understood.

“Finally, it will be useful to help business understand why the current devolution structure (the fiscal framework) has very real limitations and cannot meet the ambitions we have for a wellbeing economy in Scotland.”

Regan said the deeply critical response from businesses to the Deposit Return Scheme and the proposed ban on alcohol advertising showed the need for the Scottish Government to improve its relationship with enterprises.

She said: “It is clear from the business community’s response to both the Deposit Return Scheme and the whisky industry on advertising consultation that we must listen and work constructively to build the business environment we need.

“Scotland’s major challenges and opportunities for net zero transition must have Scotland's businesses, communities, and workforce as the driver of robust change.”

Sustainable growth?

Elsewhere, Forbes and Yousaf agreed some parts of the Sustainable Growth Commission – which effectively proposed a decade of austerity in Scotland immediately after independence – were defendable but both said much of it was no longer up to date.  

Forbes said: “The world is a completely different place today to what it was when the Sustainable Growth Commission was written.

“Not only is there the damage of Brexit, the pandemic, the cost of living crisis but also global events such as the war in Ukraine and accelerating technological change.

“However, the arguments of the Sustainable Growth Commission were correct in some areas such as the need to attract inward labour, and we should build upon that.”

The National:

Yousaf said: “While some of the Sustainable Growth Commission’s recommendations remain valid, such as the importance of immigration, and being an outward looking nation, we need to refresh our approach to reflect the work that has been done since and the world we now live in.”

Regan said: “Scotland has moved on from the Sustainable Growth Commission's conclusions and so must the conversation. A wellbeing economy is the direction of travel for Scotland, as a country full of talent, innovation, and natural resources achieving a wellbeing economy should not only be our focus but with the powers unlocked by independence, Scotland could and should aspire to lead the world to a wellbeing transition.

The wellbeing economy 

All three candidates reiterated commitments to transforming the Scottish economy into a wellbeing economy – a key project of Business for Scotland – which essentially makes the case that social factors such as health and happiness must be considered in conjunction with economic growth.

Business for Scotland chief executive Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp said: “We were pleased to see both Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes emphatically backed an independent Scotland re-joining the EU and it's hard to see how we can win our independence nor even justify a referendum (de facto or otherwise) without a commitment to reverse Brexit."

Regan said that the only "cast iron guarantee for Scotland to rejoin the EU can be given by the people of an independent Scotland" and said she would back options short of full EU membership in the immediate term after independence to allow Scottish businesses access to the single market as soon as possible. 

MacIntyre-Kemp added: “Humza Yousaf has been consistent in his support for the wellbeing economic approach throughout this campaign.

“He also highlighted the excellent work of the Social Justice and Fairness Commission when answering the question, “Do you agree that the Sustainable Growth Commission’s conclusions are now out-of-date and are made redundant by the damage of Brexit, the pandemic and the current economic and cost of living crisis? 

“Ash Regan was also solid in her support for the wellbeing economic approach as championed by Business for Scotland and Believe in Scotland.  

“All the candidates confirmed that the Sustainable Growth Commission was outdated but when asked, ‘Will you commit to continuing the development of the economic case for independence based upon a Wellbeing Economic Approach?’ Forbes stated that ‘it is me and my team that have driven the Scottish Government policies that put wellbeing and sustainable growth at the heart of the Scottish economy.’

“The wellbeing element is welcomed but the mention of ‘sustainable growth’ poses as many questions as it answers.