Comment: Businesses may still shy away from debate

CBI Scotland chief Iain McMillan. Picture: Donald Macleod
CBI Scotland chief Iain McMillan. Picture: Donald Macleod
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CBI Scotland chief Iain McMillan has seldom flinched from a spat with Alex Salmond, but in opting to register as a backer of Better Together, the CBI has stuck its head into the lion’s mouth of the independence campaign.

While other business lobby groups are either constitutionally unable to take a political position or have chosen to sidestep the issue, the move by the CBI, Britain’s largest business lobby group, places the organisation as a whole firmly against Scottish independence. The move has brought immediate – and predictable – condemnation from the Business for Scotland lobby group, part of the Yes campaign.

Other business organisations are unlikely to follow suit. The Federation of Small Businesses is not allowed by its constitution to take a political stance on the referendum issue, though it has been holding meetings and events across Scotland to inform members of the implications.

And while the Scottish Chambers of Commerce can constitutionally take a collective view, it has chosen not to do so – a decision upheld at a central council meeting last month.

On business views generally, it is important to distinguish between two strands of concern.

The first and most prominent is growing apprehension over the uncertainty arising over the referendum – especially over the currency, changes to tax rates and levels and Scotland’s membership of the EU.

The second strand is over the issue of independence itself and the prospect of an independent Scotland where the two dominant parties – the SNP and Scottish Labour – are avowedly left of centre.

This may not inspire confidence among businesses –small or large – that their concerns will be high on the agenda post-independence.