Scotland vote jolts the markets

The rapid advance of the Yes campaign in the last few days has unsettled investors.

The markets have ignored the impending Scottish referendum for most of this year. But in the past few days the rapid advance of the Yes camp has induced a panic attack in markets to match the one at Westminster.

As the three party leaders flew up to Scotland, it emerged that asset managers, investors and pension savers were moving billions out of Scotland. Pensions and insurance giant Standard Life said it was planning to move much of its business to England in the event of a Yes.

Nomura, Japan's biggest bank, warned its clients to cut their exposure to the UK, and warned of a possible collapse in the pound. Sterling suffered its worst one-day fall against the dollar in two and a half years on Monday.

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What the commentators said

"There is no question that the momentum is now all" with theYes campaign, said Deutsche Bank.This would have "huge" ramifications, and to make matters even worse, nobody seems prepared for it. This week the Treasury admitted that only now is a team being put in place to deal with the fallout.

Even if the result is a narrow No, said Alex Brummer, the spectre of separation, and the uncertain consequences, is likely to appear again before too long. Such a result "would almost certainly open the door to an SNP request for a further vote in five years".

If it's a Yes, "years of volatility" lie ahead, said Anatole Kaletsky of Gavekal Dragonomics. The "sense of shock and national failure" from an independence vote would damage the government, improving Labour's chances at the 2015 general election, and ushering in an era of higher taxes and public spending.

To complicate matters, the government would rely on Scottish members due for expulsion from the Westminster parliament in 2016, when Scotland secedes. That would presumably mean another election.

In that subsequent campaign, the Conservatives, emboldened by the loss of pro-Labour Scotland, would swing towards Euroscepticism, improving the odds of an exit from the EU. At best, "two years of unprecedented political and fiscal uncertainty for all business and investors in Britain" lie ahead.

A Yes vote "could easily derail the UK economic recovery", added Deutsche Bank. Capital would leave the Scottish economy and many corporate investment plans would stay on hold until currency, regulatory and tax matters have been hammered out. That won't do sterling's value any favours.

So how much further could the pound fall? In 2010-2014, it traded in a range of $1.50-$1.65, said Edward Hadas on Breakingviews."The bottom of that probably offers a floor, if not yet a target."

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.