(CNN) — Aberdeen’s Old Town House, an 18th century brick building replete with clock tower and cockerel wind vane, was restored a decade ago with great care.
Walls were treated with plaster lined with horse hair, while the beams were strengthened with nails designed not to split the aged wood. Traditional techniques dating back to biblical days were used, ensuring the building’s historic value was retained.
It’s a $1.6 million job Kenny Anderson is particularly proud of. The building was once the business center of the town, and it now appears in the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland’s logo.
For the owner of Scotland’s Anderson Construction, which employs just 40 people, this shows how apparently minor players, like Scotland if it becomes independent, can achieve big things.
Anderson sees his company as a metaphor for the benefits of a “yes” vote. He is supporting the campaign for an independent Scotland, one which has sent shudders through Westminster — and further afield — as it gains traction ahead of Thursday’s vote.
Polls show the vote is on a knife edge, and the uncertainty has already hit the pound, prompted banks to threaten to quit Scotland and forced Bank of England governor Mark Carney to warn of currency risks of a breakaway.
A split would end the 307-year union with England and Wales as Great Britain, which has helped push Scotland to its affluent position on the global stage. But, its detractors argue, it’s also held it back from its full economic potential.
For Anderson, the Aberdeen leader of pro-independent group Business for Scotland, the economics can be seen as more simple. He sees his company as a microcosm of the bigger debate.
In a small, independent business, it’s “easy to change things, it’s easy to make fast decisions,” he said. “I used to be a minority shareholder in much larger company and making good decisions, and changing things is ten times more difficult.”
Scotland is richer, per capita, than the UK, a fact the independence campaigners love to champion. Its access to oil pushes its GDP per person to 115% of the UK’s, according to the Scottish government, making it the world’s 14th richest country. The UK ranks at number 18.
Scotland’s total GDP was $240 billion in the year to first quarter of 2014, around 8% of total UK GDP. Scotland’s economic output per head is also the highest in the UK outside London and the South East of England, according to national statistics.
Beyond oil, a global taste for Scottish whiskey boosts its economy, with food and drink making up nearly a fifth of its $40 billion exports internationally, government figures show. Scotland exports a further $75 billion worth of goods and services into the UK — which, the pro-independence camp says, means an independent country could claim to be a significant global exporter.
But the Scots have been hit hard by the recession. During its most painful year, 2009, the country’s economy shrank by 6%, lagging behind the rest of the UK, where the contraction was 4%. Productivity and average household incomes are also below the overall UK levels.
But those promoting a breakaway say the country would be more resilient and would have survived the recession better had it not been in Westminster’s shadow.
Edinburgh’s economic advisory body — which includes Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz — has argued economic policies tailored to local needs would boost growth. Independent Scotland could, for example, aim its tax policies at helping the crucial exporters.
Anderson agrees. “Scotland has certain unique industries which are incredibly important to it, but from Westminster point of view are lower down the agenda than they would be in independent Scotland.”