Scotland politics

Scottish independence: CBI reverses referendum stance

The CBI is to attempt to reverse its position as a registered campaigner against Scottish independence.

The business lobby group registered last week with the Electoral Commission, allowing it to spend up to £150,000 in campaigning for a 'No' vote ahead of the referendum in September.

The CBI said it had taken legal advice, which suggested the application should not have been made.

It has asked the Electoral Commission to "nullify" its registration.

The commission said it was considering whether this would be possible.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) made the decision to register as a non-party participant in the campaign to retain the United Kingdom a week ago.

It said at the time it was confident the "vast majority" of its membership agreed with its stance on independence.

However, most of Scotland's universities, several quangos, the Law Society of Scotland and two businesses - Aquamarine Power and Balhousie Care Group - have left the organisation as a result of the decision.

Broadcaster STV also left the CBI, but ITV said it would remain a member. The BBC had decided to suspend its membership for the period of the election campaign, from 30 May to 18 September.

Reacting to the CBI announcement, a spokesman for the BBC said: "We'll take a look at what they have said and form a view in due course".

CBI director-general John Cridland said it had made an "honest mistake" and was now seeking to reverse its decision on the basis it had not been approved by the CBI board and was not signed by an authorised signator.

He said the registration took place in order to ensure regular Scottish events, including its annual dinner and lunch, complied with regulations during the referendum period.

Mr Cridland said: "The CBI is politically independent and impartial.

"Although the decision to register with the Electoral Commission was taken in good faith, in order to carry out normal activities during the referendum period, it has inadvertently given the impression that the CBI is a political entity - we are not and never will be."

He added: "We have always said that the referendum is a decision for the Scottish people and we're not telling people how to vote.

"However, we do have a legitimate role as the UK's biggest business group in raising important questions on the big issues affecting businesses, jobs and growth, which we will continue to do."

Mr Cridland said the CBI had given a "firm assurance" to the Electoral Commission that it would not carry out any activities covered by the referendum election regulations.

And he said registering with the Electoral Commission had "triggered something none of us expected".

The organisation has now conducted a review of the situation and taken legal advice from a QC on the matter which concluded "it was never a valid application", Mr Cridland added

He said the decision to register had been "dealt with as a compliance issue, but an honest mistake was made because it was dealt with at officer level"..

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: "We have received representations from the CBI to deregister. We are currently considering whether this is possible under the relevant legislation and will make our reasoning public when we have reached a conclusion and informed the CBI of our decision."

Tony Banks, chairman of the pro-independence Business of Scotland organisation, said the CBI had "descended from farce into shambles".

He said it was the "biggest crisis in the CBI organisation's history" and it had turned itself into a "public laughing stock".

Mr Banks added: "Our understanding is that the CBI cannot nullify its Electoral Commission registration and must, having been identified as a campaigning organisation, be policed by the Commission during the referendum campaign period, just as we are ourselves will be."

The CBI claims to speak on behalf of 190,000 businesses in the UK, of which it says 1,200 are registered and operating in Scotland.

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