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Scottish independence: BBC suspends CBI membership

The BBC will suspend its membership of the CBI from 30 May until 18 September. Picture: TSPL

The BBC will suspend its membership of the CBI from 30 May until 18 September. Picture: TSPL

  • by TOM PETERKIN
 

THE BBC has announced it has suspended its membership of the CBI following the business lobbying organisation’s decision to register as a supporter of the No campaign.

A short statement issued by the Corporation said the decision had been taken in conjunction with the CBI in order to protect the public sector broadcaster’s neutral political stand-point.

The BBC’s withdrawal of membership until the September 18 referendum sees it join a host of other Scottish organisations and businesses, which have left the CBI over its stance on the referendum.

The decision was taken last night after independence supporters had questioned if it was appropriate for the broadcaster to remain a member of the CBI after the business group registered last week as a Better Together supporter with the Electoral Commission, the independence referendum watchdog.

A BBC spokesman said: “In order to protect the BBC’s neutrality, the CBI and the BBC have agreed to suspend the BBC’s membership during the business group’s registration period under the terms of the Scottish Referendums Act 2013, (30th May until 18th September).”

Earlier today questions were raised as to whether the BBC should retain its membership, given its obligation as a public service broadcaster to provide balanced political coverage.

Those in favour of independence pointed out one of its main rivals, Scottish Television (STV), has already pulled out of the CBI.

STV said it had “no choice” but to resign its membership, because it was a public service broadcaster with “a duty of impartiality”.

Gordon McIntyre-Kemp, chief executive of the independence supporting Business for Scotland organisation, said: “We are not chasing people to resign from the CBI. That is a decision for all public and private companies to make themselves. However, we do feel that any company that wishes to claim they are neutral would have a hard time justifying being part of an organisation that is campaigning for a no vote.”

By registering with the electoral commission, the CBI became entitled to spend up to £150,000 supporting Better Together in the 16 weeks leading up to the September 18 referendum.

The CBI has claimed that has no intention to spend money in an attempt to influence how people vote. It argues that it took the step of registering in order to comply with electoral rules when it came to hosting events that would see people argue for a No vote.

Nevertheless, a host of companies, universities and quangos have left the CBI, the UK’s most influential business lobbying organisation, after it took its stance.

Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen added its name to the list, saying that after extensive consultations principal Ferdinand von Prondzynski had decided to suspend CBI membership “for the time being”.

“This will be reviewed after the referendum and the university will maintain its position of neutrality,” a statement added.

The other universities to have left are: Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, the Highlands and Islands University; Dundee University; Glasgow Caledonian; Glasgow University; Edinburgh University and Strathclyde University.

The Balhousie Care Group led by the prominent independence supporting businessman Tony Banks was the first firm to leave.

Other firms to have left the CBI are the Law Society of Scotland; the Scottish Qualifications Authority; Highlands and Islands Enterprise; Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland.

A CBI spokesman said: “While any member deciding to leave is a cause for regret, the CBI is confident we have a mandate from the vast majority of our membership on the question of Scottish independence. “The CBI took the decision to register with the Electoral Commission independently and in our own right. We have a clearly stated position that Scotland and the rest of the UK are stronger together on economic grounds as part of the Union and this reflects the views of the vast majority of our members.

“Given that we regularly hold a number of events in Scotland, including our annual dinner and lunch, and since these will fall within the campaign period, we felt that registering with the Commission was a question of good governance and ensures we comply with the law during the referendum period.

“As the UK’s biggest business group, our members employ around half a million people in Scotland, which gives us a significant voice in the referendum debate.”

Organisations suspending membership or quitting CBI Scotland

• Heriot-Watt University

• Highlands and Islands University

• Dundee University

• Aberdeen University

• Strathclyde University

• Glasgow Caledonian University

• Glasgow University

• Edinburgh University

• Robert Gordon University

• The Law Society of Scotland

• Skills Development Scotland

• Scottish Qualifications Authority

• Highlands and Islands Enterprise

• STV

• BBC

• Scottish Enterprise

• Visit Scotland

• Aquamarine Power

• Balhousie Care Group

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