Scotland business

Scottish independence: Electricians question CBI vote move

Factory machine Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The CBI represents many larger businesses

The body representing electrical contractors has urged the CBI to think again about giving its support to the campaign against Scottish independence.

Select has written an open letter to the CBI Scotland boss.

The CBI has registered with the Electoral Commission as a backer of the pro-Union campaign.

The registration as a non-party participant allows it to spend up to £150,000 on campaigning during the regulated period.

That runs from 30 May until the 18 September referendum day.

The CBI is the leading body in the UK representing large employers.

In its letter about the decision to register as a supporter of the campaign against a Yes vote, Select said: "In taking this action you do not reflect our views".

Select reminds the CBI that it represents 1250 companies, employing 15,000 electricians.

"The owners of our member companies and their employees, like the rest of the Scottish population, cover the full range of political affiliations," the letter states. "We are agreed that the way in which each and every person associated with Select votes is a matter for them alone."

Two companies said they will leave the CBI, following the news of its registration.

Aquamarine, which is developing wave power machines in Edinburgh and Orkney, is leaving. While the company is neutral, its chief executive, Martin McAdam is a supporter of the Yes campaign.

He commented: "The CBI has registered with the Electoral Commission as a 'no' campaign backer without consultation with its members.

"As a business Aquamarine Power has been firmly neutral on the matter of independence. We have adopted this view after consultation with our board and management team and as a consequence we can no longer remain members of the CBI.

"Although Aquamarine Power's staff and board members may have personal views on the matter of independence, this has no influence on our agreed company position."


Tony Banks, chairman of the Balhousie care home group, has also announced he is pulling his company out of the CBI, and says others are considering whether to quit over the weekend.

Responding to the withdrawals, a CBI spokesman said: "While any member deciding to leave is a cause for regret, the CBI is confident we have a mandate from the vast majority of our membership on the question of Scottish independence."

It is understood that no CBI money is earmarked to influence the campaign.

Election law requires registration and detailed returns on donations by any individual or organisation spending more than £10,000.

Instead, it is argued that the registration, dated Thursday 16 April, ensures the organisation stays within electoral law if it stages events with pro-union speakers.

That could include the annual CBI Scotland dinner, which usually takes place at the start of September.

The Confederation of British Industry, as the loudest voice representing larger businesses and employers, has long had a difficult relationship with the Scottish National Party.

Nationalists point to the CBI's opposition to devolution in the 1990s as well, raising fears which have proven to be unfounded.

The CBI, led in Scotland by Iain McMillan, has posed a large number of questions to the Scottish government about its independence plans.

Having concluded many answers were not clear, last month it issued a critique of the independence plans as they could affect business, and said it supports Scotland remaining within the UK.

Following that, SNP MSPs were told to stop "badgering" Mr McMillan at a Holyrood committee hearing about business and independence earlier this month.

The Business for Scotland organisation, which backs a Yes vote, questioned how representative the CBI is of Scottish business opinion. It also questions whether the CBI has consulted its members.

The membership list is not public, but is believed to include some public sector agencies and universities.

'Neutral stance'

Business for Scotland, which intends also to register with the Electoral Commission, argues that those required to take a neutral stance will feel compromised by their link to a No campaigning organisation, and the possible use of membership funds for that.

The Yes-supporting group claims that most business members of the CBI are also neutral on the referendum.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, of the Business for Scotland group, commented: "Businesses will be in a difficult position and will have to decide if they're going to maintain their membership of the CBI."

He described the registration as "a desperate move" by the No side of the independence debate to get funds from the CBI.

Tony Banks, a board member of Business for Scotland whose Balhousie care home group was a member of CBI Scotland, said he has not been consulted.

"The CBI represents very few companies in Scotland and mostly those based in London," he said. "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".

The CBI is understood to see such attacks as intended to divert attention from the economic and business issues around independence, which it intends to pursue.

It is claimed that Mr Banks has chosen to contribute to the CBI debate through the media and has never made his views known within the organisation. Mr Banks has disputed this.

A spokesman for Better Together said: "Yet again the nationalists choose to attack the messenger rather than debate the issues.

"Over the last few months, employer after employer have raised legitimate concerns and asked genuine questions about what leaving the UK would mean for their businesses and for Scottish jobs.

"It is ridiculous that the only response from the Yes campaign is to go after individuals and organisations for having the audacity to disagree with them."

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