GLASGOW Aug 28 British Prime Minister David Cameron will make the case for the economic benefits of Scotland staying in the United Kingdom on Thursday as a divided business community publicly take sides.
With three weeks to go until a referendum on independence, 200 Scottish business leaders, including Stagecoach head Brian Souter and engineering tycoon Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers, joined forces in a letter published in Glasgow newspaper The Herald on Thursday backing Scotland's breakaway.
A day earlier, a group of 130 business leaders, among them the heads of giants BHP Billiton, temporary power provider Aggreko and HSBC bank, had signed an open letter opposing independence, saying nationalists had failed to make the business case for an independent Scotland.
Many companies, large and small, had previously refused to take sides in the highly-charged debate.
A number of questions remain over the financial and economic arrangements of an independent Scotland, including what currency it would use, EU membership, and the future of North Sea oil.
Several recent polls have shown support for independence pushing higher. But the most recent "poll of polls", on Aug. 15, which was based on an average of the last six polls and excluded undecided respondents, found support for a breakaway stood at 43 percent against 57 percent for remaining within Britain.
The pro-independence letter said the end of the 307-year-old union with England would give Scotland the powers "to give our many areas of economic strength even more of an advantage in an increasingly competitive world".
"I think it would be good for the whole of Scotland... we will be able to control our own financial affairs and stimulate our own economy," Sandy Adam, chairman of Springfield Properties Plc, told BBC Radio.
Cameron has taken a low-profile role in the debate, aware that his privileged English background has limited appeal in Scotland, where his Conservative party has only one of Scotland's 59 seats in the London parliament.
But with nationalists starting to gain some ground in polls before the Sept. 18 referendum, Cameron will make a rare foray north of the border to argue Scotland is better off as part of a large domestic market with a shared currency, taxes, and rules.
"This is one of the oldest and most successful single markets in the world," Cameron will tell business leaders at a dinner in Glasgow.
"Scotland does twice as much trade with the rest of the UK than with the rest of the world put together...trade that helps to support one million Scottish jobs."
The major British parties and businesses opposed to independence argue Scotland is better off in the United Kingdom and could instead be given further powers to its devolved parliament to ease fears that policies made in London will continue to dominate Scotland.
Scotland has had its own devolved parliament since 1999 and can legislate on issues such as education, health, the environment, housing, and justice.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Angus MacSwan)