THE head of the CBI has expressed “considerable regret” at the withdrawal of Scottish Government agencies as members of the business group after it registered with the Electoral Commission backing a “no” vote in the independence referendum.
Director general John Cridland said the decision was made “for compliance reasons” and did not represent any wish to campaign to influence voters’ opinions.
The Scottish Government says the change makes the CBI membership of its agencies “clearly inappropriate”.
Scottish Enterprise, VisitScotland, STV, the Balhousie Care Group and energy company Aquamarine Power have all resigned from the organisation.
Mr Cridland said today: “We have to operate within the law and the decision we took was that simply to do our normal activities on behalf of our members, including events and public statements between now and the referendum, we were advised that we needed to comply with the Electoral Commission’s rules because we have a position on the issues.
“It is a compliance issue.
“I regret any CBI member leaving. That is a matter of considerable regret to me as chief executive. But I respect the fact that there are a variety of views.
“Nothing changed this weekend about the CBI’s position on the issue. All that changed is that for compliance reasons, we decided that we needed to register to be on the right side of those regulations.”
It emerged on Friday that CBI Scotland, which represents many businesses across the country, had registered with the Electoral Commission, meaning it can spend more than £10,000 on campaigning during the referendum period.
Registering as a campaigner also gives access to the electoral register and the right for representatives to attend postal vote opening sessions, polling stations and the counting of votes.
The confederation faced criticism that its position does not accurately reflect its members’ views and it failed to consult them before formally registering to campaign for the union.
But Mr Cridland added: “The members of the CBI want the CBI to have a view, and that view is that it is a matter for the Scottish voter.
“We are not trying to campaign to influence the Scottish voter but we are a business organisation and on the business issues - jobs in Scotland, growth in Scotland, living standards in Scotland - we have a view: we don’t think the economic case for independence has been made and we think the economy in Scotland and the economy of the United Kingdom is stronger together.
“We are not taking actions in an election but we do have a point of view.”
Balhousie chairman Tony Banks said CBI took the decision without consulting its members and has challenged the organisation to produce evidence that it has followed due democratic process.
Mr Banks, who chairs the pro-independence campaign Business For Scotland but insists his business is “neutral” in the independence debate, has predicted there will be more walkouts in the days ahead.
“The CBI declaring for the no campaign has put us all in an untenable position,” he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.
“To maintain our neutrality we have to resign from the organisation.”