Terry Murden: CBI’s stance on independence

Cridland is under fire for the CBI's support of the No Campaign. Photograph: Toby Williams
Cridland is under fire for the CBI's support of the No Campaign. Photograph: Toby Williams
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TIME will tell if CBI is out of touch on independence, says Terry Murden

NO-ONE ever doubted the CBI’s opposition to Scottish independence, nor the determination of its officers to tackle the Yes supporters head-on. But the resignation of three Scottish members over the organisation’s decision to register as an anti-independence campaigner has added a significant new twist to the debate.

The CBI’s director-general, John Cridland, got himself into hot water last month when he failed to spell out how much – if any – consultation had taken place with its Scottish members before issuing its submission on the white paper.

The CBI document was criticised for one-sidedness and lacking any ack­nowledgement of potential benefits from independence.

Following a piece I wrote in The Scotsman raising these questions, Cridland called me and an article ran in Scotland on Sunday that weekend in which he presented a staunch defence of his views and insisted there had been consultation.

He repeated his arguments in a self-penned article in The Scotsman yesterday, but he is now caught up in another furore after it emerged on Friday that the CBI had formally registered with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of Better Together – a move that confers certain rights, including an opportunity to spend £150,000 on campaigning.

Once again, questions have been raised about whether the membership was consulted before it took this decision.

The CBI argues that it has a mandate for its actions resulting from regular briefings at which it “takes the temperature” of members. The CBI makes decisions “cabinet-style”, which means minority views will be heard but the decisions it takes reflect the “prevailing” view. Minorities either accept the majority view or not, and may resign. That is what Martin McAdam, chief executive of wind energy firm Aquamarine Power; Tony Banks, chairman of Balhousie Care Group; and yesterday STV chose to do.

It should be noted that Banks is also leader of Business for Scotland, a group representing supporters of independence, so perhaps his membership of the CBI was becoming a little untenable.

The question now being asked is whether more pro-independence members of the CBI will follow Banks, McAdam and STV, or whether they will continue to accept the organisation’s majority-rule decision-making process.

There is certainly no sign of wavering from Cridland or the CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan, who have consistently and forcefully argued why it would be a mistake on economic grounds for Scotland to leave the UK. Business for Scotland is a single-iss­ue campaign group, and while it has every right to oppose the CBI’s views, it should tread carefully before criticising the way in which it reaches those views. The CBI represents a diverse range of opinions, and the membership is likely to be divided on other issues from corporation tax to planning, and unless it represented the prevailing view it would struggle to function.

On that basis, Business for Scotland should accept the CBI’s procedures for representing an eclectic membership. If the CBI is more deeply div­ided than it claims, and a trickle of resignations turns into a flood, then it will expose its leadership as being out of touch.