Nicola Sturgeon attempts to heal indyref rift with CBI

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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THE success of Scottish businesses “outweighs” any disagreements that industry bodies may have with the Scottish Government during the Scottish independence referendum, the First Minister has told an annual CBI gathering.

It comes after the business lobby group caused some controversy when it tried to officially register as a supporter of the pro-union Better Together campaign during last year’s independence referendum campaign.

We are determined to focus on the four pillars of our economic strategy - investment in people and infrastructure, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth

Nicola Sturgeon

The move sparked a backlash which saw about 20 bodies, including several Scottish universities, the BBC and STV, leave the organisation. The Electoral Commission later ruled that the CBI’s application to register as a supporter of a No vote was void.

Nicola Sturgeon called for closer links between government, industry, unions and public sector bodies at the CBI Scotland annual dinner in Glasgow.

She said: “I’ve made it very clear, I hope, since becoming First Minister that my door is always open to business and that’s the case for a reason.

“A flourishing business sector in every corner of our country massively outweighs any differences we might have from time to time on any individual issues.”

Ms Sturgeon said partnerships are essential to sustaining economic growth.

• EU changes ‘could benefit Scotland’ says CBI chief

“We want to build a partnership for productivity with businesses, the third sector, the wider public sector and trade unions,” she said.

“We are determined to focus on the four pillars of our economic strategy - investment in people and infrastructure, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth.

“Small and medium-sized businesses are not only the backbone of the Scottish economy, but are essential to delivering our ambition for Scotland to become the real Northern powerhouse, the UK location of choice for businesses looking to locate, expand or invest.”

With a planned referendum on the UK’s future in the EU to take place before the end of 2017, Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to be on the same side of the argument as the CBI in the campaign to maintain EU membership.

To laughs, she said: “Who knows, we might see the Scottish Government and the CBI on the same side in a referendum campaign. That would be novel.”

She added: “Scottish businesses benefit greatly from access to the European market - exports to Europe support 330,000 jobs. And we all benefit from the freedom to travel, work and study within the EU, and from the fact that 170,000 EU citizens have chosen to live in Scotland.

“That doesn’t mean we see the EU as perfect - we have consistently made a constructive case for reform. But we want to work to improve the EU, rather than arguing to leave it.

“We want to build on the partnerships of the future.”

New CBI president Paul Dreschler said the EU is “far from perfect” but highlighted the benefits it brings to Scottish business.

“About 45% of Scottish exports go to the European continent - in 2012 these totalled nearly £12 billion,” he said.

“The EU’s single market lets business go beyond a market of five million Scots, or 64 million Brits, to reach more than 500 million potential customers.”