The CBI has, under pressure from Business for Scotland, registered with the Electoral Commission Scotland (ECS) as part of the No Campaign. It has done this against the stated positions of its member companies some of which support independence and the vast majority of which have been at pains to stay neutral.
This is major setback for the No Campaign and an unsustainable position for the CBI. Unable to motivate the vast majority of the business community to support their scare stories, the No Campaign have tried to hijack a business network which should have – in accordance with its membership – remained neutral on the referendum.
This is a major victory for Business for Scotland. We have been calling in public and requesting in private of the Electoral Commission Scotland for months that the CBI is asked to register as part of the No camp. Business for Scotland is a business representative network like the CBI, although our focus is on representing SMEs which are actually based in Scotland. SMEs represent 99.3pc of the Scottish private sector businesses. Our individual members each sign a business declaration in favour of independence. We have always accepted we will register as a campaign participant once the CBI has and we will now do so.
This move by the CBI is unprecedented. They have now declared themselves as part of the No Campaign without seeking the permission and sign-off of its members in Scotland. The CBI has also refused to release an explanation of its membership numbers in Scotland.
Tony Banks, Chairman of Business for Scotland, owns Balhousie Care Group which is a CBI member and was not consulted. Several members of the CBI have today contacted Business for Scotland to express deep concern that their organisations have effectively been registered as part of the No Campaign. There will be more on that soon.
The CBI has never represented its members on this issue and clearly now no longer represents anything but the views of its No Campaign supporting officials.
Many questions will now be asked in the coming days.
First, why was there no transparent sign-off by the whole Scottish membership? Any anonymous consultative exercises involving a few carefully selected members are unrepresentative. The position of most CBI members is well known. Given the majority are declared neutral on the referendum, what mandate do the officials claim to actually have for registering as a No campaign participant? Several CBI members are pro-independence so why are their views not represented?
Secondly, many companies now must feel they have been put in an impossible position. How sustainable is this situation for many of the CBI’s members? What concerns will they raise about governance within the CBI? What will shareholders of member companies have to say about this? The funds of taxpayers through public sector members of the CBI are now presumably being used to fund campaigning for the No Campaign? Is this even legal?
Recently, the CBI has put itself forward to be neutral chairs of debates involving Business for Scotland at the same time as adopting a public position against independence – what does this say about their honesty?
John Cridland, the CBI Director General, gave interviews earlier this month presenting the CBI as a business group against independence but Claire Stewart the presenter of Scotland Tonight doggedly pressed Mr Cridland as to whether Scottish members had been consulted on the report and policy decision. Twice he refused to say. Such evasiveness clearly indicates there has been no consultation of any substance.
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Last year the 2013 Chair of the CBI in Scotland, Nosheena Mobarik, was appointed a Director of the Better Together anti-independence campaign and has expressed her views clearly on a number of occasions, including in her CBI capacity. At the CBI annual dinner, she attacked the Yes Campaign arguing that: “the CBI has a rich engagement on constitutional matters” and that “our members approved a referendum strategy” that broadly follows that of Better Together. No evidence of members each agreeing to the policy against independence has been forthcoming and anonymous straw polls do not constitute proper governance.
John Cridland, Director General of the CBI UK-wide, put it more precisely when he said simply: “We are better together.”
Membership claims must now be scrutinised
The CBI claims to represent 240,00 companies in UK and 24,000 in Scotland but all attempts to identify membership seems to indicate only 80 or so members headquartered in Scotland. Why such a disparity? It looks to be the case that the CBI membership figures are grossly inflated to make them appear to be a far more important business group in Scotland than they actually are.
The Daily Telegraph also recently reported on claims that the CBI does not represent the views of companies north of the border, pointing to Business for Scotland signing up 1,100 members at the time (now over 1,700). However, they stated that “this is dwarfed by the CBI, which claims to have around 24,000 members that employ 630,000 people”. There is currently no evidence to suggest that they have more than 80 members.
Has the CBI misled the media and public on its membership numbers both in Scotland and in the UK? With perhaps less than 100 members in Scotland you would expect no more than a few thousand members across the whole of the UK. It seems fair to ask if they have decided to unilaterally represent all medium sized companies in the UK whether or not they have any connection to the CBI and without any proper consultation of those that do.
CBI Scotland council member Anthony Rush has admitted, when considering whether the CBI only has 100 members in Scotland that he does “not know where the true number of Scottish companies lies.”
CBI has no mandate to campaign for a No vote
Businesspeople have a wide range of views on the referendum and business groups should formally seek the views of their members in a transparent fashion before coming to policy conclusions.
Business for Scotland researchers called 22 CBI members: 3 stated they were Yes supporters but personally not on a corporate basis, 17 stated they were neutral and only 2 told us they were No supporters (again on a personal basis). In turn, it is clear the CBI does not have a mandate from their members to join the No camp, especially in the case of leading universities and public bodies.
Does the CBI membership not deserve better than blind compliance with the failed status quo or worse the likely future for Scotland’s economy after a No vote?
Business for Scotland has a mandate to campaign.
Leading entrepreneur Tony Banks is the Chairman of Business for Scotland and a CBI member
Comments from Tony Banks at the St. Columba’s Debate in London 25/03/14 to an audience of nearly 500.
“Business for Scotland believes that independence is in the interests of business and that Scotland’s economy will thrive with a yes vote. Our ranks are filled not exclusively but mostly with businesspeople running SMEs. We recognise that SMEs are 99.3% of the Scottish private sector. They are the lifeblood of Scotland’s growing economy. Likewise, we particularly benefit from the support of self-made entrepreneurs who more so than other businesspeople see change as an opportunity, not a threat.
By contrast, the CBI represents very few companies in Scotland and mostly those based in London. Much more importantly, on the question of Scotland’s future, they have shown themselves to be part of the No Campaign. And not an impartial or thoughtful organisation representing well the interests of their membership”.
CBI’s track record of opposition to progress in Scotland
Ian McMillan has been Director of CBI Scotland for decades. Over that time the CBI has opposed every single move for greater economic powers for Scotland.
Under his watch the CBI
- Opposed devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament
- Opposed proposals of the Calman Commission
- Opposes independence
The people of Scotland know that the CBI were wrong on devolution and they are wrong again now.
CBI criticised for misrepresenting member views
Several CBI members who are mostly neutral on the referendum have complained publicly that Ian McMillan and the CBI have misrepresented their views on independence.
These include “Barclays Wealth, Edrington Group, Aquamarine Power and event the Law Society of Scotland who all publicly denied Mr McMillan’ claims on independence.”
The CBI have opposed all constitutional progress in Scotland. They said that devolution would be bad for business and bad for Scotland, they were wrong then and they are wrong now. They have very serious questions to ask about their inflated and misleading membership claims, claiming 24,000 members in Scotland when there is no evidence that they have more than 80 (some of which are public sector). They lack all credibility and can be fairly accused of dishonesty.
With a track record in misrepresenting the views of their membership they have put their members in Scotland in an impossible position. Many of their already small Scottish membership must be asking themselves how they can remain members of the CBI now that it is officially part of the No Campaign.
John Cridland in debate with myself on BBC Good Morning Scotland this month pulled out of a second debate later that day. Tony Banks and many others stand available to debate with Mr Cridland or Mr McMillan at any time.
This amounts to a desperate attempt by the No Campaign under pressure from Business for Scotland. However, with no mandate and limited members in Scotland this move can also be seen as a huge own goal with significant implications for the campaign as a whole.
Original Source: BusinessForScotland