Sterling and FTSE 100 rally as Scotland votes No to independence

Currency worries may now be gone, but questions remain for businesses over the extent of devolution.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 23 Oct 2014

As the people of Britain stumble bleary-eyed to bed or heave themselves out from between their covers, they do so in a still-united country. Scotland has rejected independence by 55.3% to 44.7% leading the pound and FTSE 100 to rally in relief.

The result was confirmed at 6.08am this morning, when the 30th council, Fife, declared their votes. More than 2 million people voted No, compared to the 1.62 million Scots who said Yes and the 1.82 million needed to win.

The No campaign won just four councils, including the largest city, Glasgow. Official turnout was historically high, at 84.6%.

‘I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland,’ SNP leader Alex Salmond said.

But he was quick to call on the pro-Union parties to make good on their recent, hasty promises to devolve more powers to Scotland - perhaps always his main aim. ‘Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course,’ he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron said this morning that pledge would be honoured, with Glasgow Commonwealth Games head Lord Kelvin to draw up proposals by January. But there was more - the PM wants the so-called English/West Lothian Question, which asks why Scottish MPs can still vote on laws that don’t affect their constituents, such as tuition fees, resolved too.

That’s a pretty rapid, pre-general election timetable and one the PM probably hopes will appease his backbench Conservative MPs, many of whom are not best-pleased about more powers being promised to Scotland.

The pound rallied overnight and early this morning, as investors expressed their relief at the result. It was worth $1.6525 at one stage, up almost 1% since midnight and setting it on course for the largest two-day rise against the dollar in more than a year.

Sterling also strengthened against the Euro to €1.2785, a more-than two-year high. As IHS Economics economist Howard Archer put it, ‘Sterling had a quite sell off in recent weeks. There will be a relief rally.’

Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 opened up 50 points, although it fell back during the day, closing 33 points (0.49%) higher at 6,852.63.

But while the main cloud of uncertainty has been swept away for businesses both north and south of the border, the debate over devolution still leaves some risk hanging. Institute of Directors director general Simon Walker said, ‘There can be no doubt that many businesses will breathe a sigh of relief that the prospect of a contentious currency debate and prolonged economic negotiations have been avoided, and yet we know that significant changes are still on the cards.’

Moreover, the independence question may still come back. While a 10% victory margin is pretty solid, it's far less than anyone would have predicted even five years ago. Another referendum in 10-15 years, as happened in Quebec in 1995 after the first vote in 1980, may yet be on the cards.

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