THE CBI was last night forced to reveal that its Scottish director is to stand down at the end of the year.
The announcement that Iain McMillan is taking early retirement came a day after the organisation’s embarrassing U-turn, reversing its decision to formally register as a supporter of pro-Union campaign group Better Together.
Faced with speculation that McMillan was a casualty of the public relations fiasco which has engulfed the organisation for more than a week, the CBI issued a short statement about his future.
The business lobby organisation categorically denied he had been sacked or resigned after 19 years in the post, but said he would take early retirement at the end of this year.
According to the CBI, the retirement deal was brokered in January – months before the organisation became embroiled in a row when it registered as a “non-party participant” with the Electoral Commission to back a No vote in the independence referendum.
Yesterday a CBI spokesman said: “Mr McMillan signalled his intention to retire early two years ago. He agreed a timetable for his departure with our HR team in January and is planning to retire towards the end of 2014.”
The timing of the announcement was unfortunate given the furore that has resulted from the CBI’s official support for Better Together. The move, which would have allowed the CBI to spend up to £150,000 to campaign for a No vote, triggered a backlash from many of its members.
Eighteen organisations, including several Scottish universities, Scottish Enterprise, the Law Society of Scotland, the BBC and STV, felt they had either to resign or suspend membership of the CBI.
The departing organisations said the CBI’s stance compromised their determination to maintain a neutral position on the referendum.
Last night, the independence-supporting Business for Scotland group suggested that McMillan had been made a scapegoat, adding that the position of the CBI’s London-based director general John Cridland was untenable.
“The news that Mr McMillan will soon be departing from CBI Scotland comes as no surprise. His silence during the last week speaks volumes,” said Tony Banks, chairman of Business for Scotland.
“However, it does beg some questions about the main driver behind the CBI’s response to the Scottish Government’s white paper. That was headed up by the director general, John Cridland, who was responsible for the composition and media promotion of what was clearly a highly politicised act of No-campaigning.”
After a week of bad publicity, Cridland applied to reverse the official registration with Better Together. On Friday, he said the controversial application was an “honest mistake” that should not have been made and had not been signed by an authorised official.
He said a junior member of staff in London had filed forms with Better Together without informing senior CBI officials.
Throughout last week, the CBI maintained that it was never its intention to spend money in an attempt to influence voters.
The registration was originally made to ensure the organisation was compliant with electoral law when it hosted events that included people arguing from a No platform.
The Electoral Commission is currently examining whether it is possible for the CBI to de-register as a Better Together supporter.
Cridland said the decision to de-register was to restore the CBI’s impartiality and insisted that the organisation was politically neutral.