THE reasoning why Terry Murden thinks companies can’t stay silent in the independence debate makes reference to “anecdotal evidence” of concern amongst “CBI Scotland’s members” (Business, 5 January). His comments could be taken to imply that there is an even split between those who favour one side of the argument or the other. From my “insider” perspective I can tell you that the representatives of all the CBI member organisations I have met and talked to, in Scotland and south of the Border, are more convinced that Scottish independence would not be a good thing for business than are not convinced that it would. I have yet to meet any who say they are convinced that it would be a good thing.
Mr Murden appears to misunderstand the nature of CBI membership. It is a national body which speaks for companies and other business organisations. Membership is not usually open to individual members. I understand that CBI claims to speak for 24,000 businesses trading in Scotland. Supporters of the Yes campaign assert that as a body CBI does not represent Scottish business. I understand that they rely on a trawl of CBI membership details to identify Scottish registered companies or organisations and come up with 100. That is not the way to judge CBI’s membership or influence.
I do not know where the true number of Scottish companies lies. But I do know that it helps guide one to understand businesses’ role in Scotland and in the current debate.
I take it we can all agree that business should steer clear of promoting constitutional change. I also assume that it is accepted that the directors of companies owe a principal duty to their shareholders. Companies should therefore limit any input they have on the current debate to what is in the interest of their shareholders. CBI has a duty to distil the views of those who they speak for into coherent policies and statements. To correct another impression Mr Murden gives, CBI is not a “trade body” – they speak for all trades – they represent no particular interest group.
Directors of companies trading in Scotland, particularly those who have subsidiaries, must be asking in the interests of their shareholders “Do we stay or go? – if we go, when is the best time? – if we stay, to what extent?” As seasoned “negotiators” they will have formed a view on the downsides of an independent Scotland’s future in Europe and a so-called “sterling zone”.
They will look for the upsides. But, if the SNP shows reluctance to answer CBI Scotland’s detailed questions, businesses will be inclined towards the worst-case scenario if Scotland votes to become independent. This, among other things, could lead to more profits being repatriated to foreign jurisdictions.
An independent Scotland would have to persuade foreign businesses that Scotland – a small market – is a good place to do business. There is little which “spooks” business more than an organisation which overestimates its strengths and underestimates or, even worse, ignores its weaknesses.
Whilst I am a council member of CBI Scotland, these are my own thoughts.
Anthony Rush, Bridge of Weir