SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: The CBI yesterday declared itself as an official backer of the No campaign in the run-up to the independence referendum, sparking the immediate withdrawal of two Scottish companies from the organisation in protest at the move.
Registering with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of Better Together allows the CBI to spend up to £150,000 on campaigning in the four months leading up to the 18 September vote. The decision to side with the No campaign last night triggered a spate of criticism from businesses, who argued against the CBI’s decision to take an official stance in the debate.
Tony Banks, the prominent Yes-supporting entrepreneur, was the first to announce his company’s withdrawal from the CBI.
Mr Banks, chairman of the Balhousie Care Group and also the independence-supporting Business for Scotland organisation, argued that the CBI had taken the step without consulting its members.
He said: “It is abundantly clear that the CBI is not representing its members’ views honestly. I am therefore writing to the director-general John Cridland today, withdrawing my company membership.”
The CBI has consistently argued that independence would cause uncertainty and could harm Scottish businesses.
Mr Banks said: “CBI has attempted to hijack its members without proper consultation on their views and many must now feel they are in an impossible position.
“There should have been a transparent sign-off by all members in the same way as Business for Scotland asks each of its members to sign the business declaration in favour of independence.”
The withdrawal of Mr Banks’ carehome business was followed by the wave energy company Aquamarine Power.
Chief executive Martin McAdam said: “The CBI has registered with the Electoral Commission as a No campaign backer without consultation with its members. As a business, Aquamarine Power has been firmly neutral on the matter of independence. We have adopted this view after consultation with our board and management team and, as a consequence, we can no longer remain members of the CBI.”
Another organisation to voice its disquiet over the decision was Select, the trade association for the electrical contracting industry in Scotland which represents 1,250 companies.
Yesterday Select wrote to the CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan saying that “in taking this action, you do not reflect our views”.
Select stopped short of withdrawing its CBI membership, but called for the decision to be reviewed.
“The owners of our member companies and their employees – like the rest of the Scottish population – cover the full range of political affiliations and, within Select, we are agreed that the way in which each and every person associated with Select votes on 18 September this year is a matter for them alone,” the letter said.
A CBI spokesman said: “The CBI has clearly stated its position in the Scottish referendum debate, that Scotland and the rest of the UK are stronger together as part of the Union. We have registered this with the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law.”
Under electoral law, any individual or organisation spending more than £10,000 on campaigning has to register with the Electoral Commission and declare its donations. Non-party organisations including the CBI and Business for Scotland have a spending limit of £150,000 in the 16 weeks leading up to the referendum.
The CBI said that financial support was not the purpose of the registration and the organisation had no intention of making political donations.
However, the move does enable it to hold public events supporting the Better Together case and to take a formal position on public platforms.
Writing in today’s Scotsman, Mr Cridland says the CBI had rejected independence on economic grounds, claiming that the Scottish Government’s plans “simply don’t add up”.
He states: “Like the rest of the UK, Scotland’s fiscal position requires an austerity plan but its tax and spend proposals include £670 million of unfunded spending, without addressing the substantial deficit the nation would have: £2,303 per person.
“And we all know where that leads: higher government borrowing costs which filter down so that banks are paying more, businesses are paying more and people are paying more for products like mortgages.”
He added: “For an economy of Scotland’s size a monetary union is just not a credible option.”
• In tomorrow’s Scotsman, CBI boss John Cridland renews his warning on independence: scotsman.com/business