CBI: Scottish referendum foremost issue for UK businesses

Sir Michael Rake Sir Mike Rake became president of the CBI in June 2013. He is also chairman of BT Group.

The Scottish referendum is the "foremost issue for businesses" in the UK, the head of the business lobby group, the CBI, will say later.

In a speech this evening, Sir Mike Rake will say that the case has not been made that an independent Scotland would be better for the economy.

"It is difficult to see how independence would be better for investment and jobs," he will say.

He is also set to highlight the importance of the European elections.

Sir Mike will tell the CBI annual dinner that while the decision on independence is for the Scottish people to take, the CBI would continue to raise economic questions on the issue.

Welder The CBI says that the economic situation has 'stabilised' and concern has shifted towards political risk

"The CBI has the right and duty to ask the difficult questions about issues which affect our members' interests and this country's economic future," he is expected to say.

Analysis

Sir Mike Rake's comments have renewed the debate about the CBI's role in the referendum.

The business group registered with the Electoral Commission as a formal "No" campaigner only to nullify that registration saying it had been a mistake.

But every time a senior CBI figure airs concerns about the impact of Scottish independence, supporters of a "Yes" vote cry foul, insisting that the organisation should re-register; that its professed neutrality is a fig leaf.

They are also angry about the BBC's continued membership of the CBI, which has now been transferred to the broadcaster's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, saying it threatens impartial reporting.

They point out that fellow broadcaster STV has resigned from the CBI.

Opponents of independence say this is the latest example of Yes Scotland and its supporters focusing on process rather than substance.

They say the debate should focus on the issues: currency, European Union membership and trade.

And here, of course, there is no agreement.

Campaigners for independence say Scotland has a unique opportunity to build a more prosperous and just society; opponents say business is better off with the size, security and stability of the United Kingdom.

"The effects of the decision will be felt by others, including businesses - not just in Scotland but in Wales, Northern Ireland and England," he will add.

However, his comments were dismissed by Business for Scotland, a group supporting a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum.

The group said that "more and more businesses here see the opportunities that independence offers them".

"They see that Scotland's economy will thrive in the hands of a Scottish Government that understands its needs," it added.

Open markets

The CBI had originally registered as a campaigner against Scottish independence, but the application was later nullified by the Electoral Commission.

Most of Scotland's universities, several quangos, the Law Society of Scotland and two businesses - Aquamarine Power and Balhousie Care Group - left the organisation as a result of the initial decision to campaign for a "No" vote.

Sir Mike will also argue that the second major risk for business is Britain's place in the EU.

"Open markets are an essential part of our open economy," he will say.

"We cannot be our best when in isolation."

On the question of a referendum on EU membership he will say that even the possibility of having it has caused uncertainty in business and that while membership has its frustrations, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

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