CBI chief stands firm over independence fears

CBI DIRECTOR general John Cridland has accused the organisation’s critics of “avoiding the issues” in order to attack its position on independence.

CBIs John Cridland. Picture: Toby Williams
CBIs John Cridland. Picture: Toby Williams

In comments which could further escalate the division opening up in business circles, Cridland denounced those who said the CBI had not consulted with its Scottish membership before issuing a 51-page paper raising concerns over constitutional change.

The document claimed that the Scottish Government’s economic plan for independence does not add up, even when taking into account oil and gas revenues, and accused the White Paper of lacking a credible plan for deficit reduction. The CBI went on to claim that Scotland’s net deficit will be as large, as well as more volatile, than the rest of the UK’s and that there was no clarity over such things as currency or Scotland’s future relationship with the European Union.

Critics, including the Scottish Government, said the CBI submission was “one-sided” and that those CBI members who support independence did not have their voice heard.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, who heads the pro-independence lobby group Business for Scotland, listed a string of benefits for business that would result from independence in areas such as job creation, export growth and lower taxes.

Cridland declined twice to answer questions in an STV interview as to whether the CBI had consulted its members before putting the submission together.

Speaking exclusively to Scotland on Sunday on Friday, he insisted the CBI’s response to the White Paper represented the views of its members. He said there had been consultation with Scottish CBI members and that a cross-section of views had been taken into account.

“We have consulted extensively. We talk to all of our members all of the time,” he said. “We seek views on an ongoing basis in writing, by talking, by visiting. Those views then go to the CBI Scotland council. I respect other points of view and there are people in CBI Scotland who support independence.”

He said he was at the CBI Scotland council meeting in late February which signed off the position and he was satisfied that he had a mandate.

“I am very much speaking for the vast majority of members in Scotland,” he said.

Cridland insisted that he respected the views expressed by Business for Scotland and the SNP, although he questioned how Business for Scotland had formed its views.

“People are avoiding speaking about the issues,” he said. “We have set out a series of questions which need to be addressed before the Scottish voters cast their votes. Issues like currency, regulation, taxation, European Union membership.

“Our view is clear. We do not deal with constitutional issues but with economic issues. Lots of questions remain unanswered and they cause uncertainty.

“I have never claimed that all entrepreneurs take the same view on independence. On any issue as important as independence you will find a variety of views. The CBI has its own point of view based on the mandate of our membership. We are a broad church. But I am absolutely happy that I have a mandate from my members for the position I have taken.”