Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland leave CBI

CBI poster Image copyright CBI
Image caption The CBI says its stance on the referendum reflects the views of the majority of its members

Scottish government agencies Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland have quit business lobby organisation CBI after it formally backed the campaign against independence.

A statement from Scottish Enterprise said CBI Scotland had taken a "political decision".

It said it "had no choice but to immediately resign" from the CBI.

Tourism body VisitScotland also said it was "appropriate to withdraw from the organisation" in light of the decision.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The CBI has registered as a campaign organisation for a No vote in the referendum.

"In these circumstances, it is clearly inappropriate for government agencies to remain in membership of CBI."

The CBI said it was confident the "vast majority" of its membership agreed with its stance on independence.

It 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 from 30 May until the referendum on 18 September.

Following its decision, Scottish firms Aquamarine Power and the Balhousie Care Group announced they were quitting the business industry organisation, which is the leading body in the UK representing large employers

On Saturday, broadcaster STV said rules on impartiality meant it had "no choice" but to resign from the organisation.

Other CBI members are expected to consider their position next week, among them Glasgow Caledonian University.

'Neutral stance'

The university said it would "continue to maintain its neutral stance in the Scottish independence referendum debate" and its position would be considered by the executive board on Tuesday.

Balhousie chairman Tony Banks, who is also chairman of the pro-independence Business for Scotland group, told BBC Scotland he believed the CBI had been "hugely damaged" by the stance it was taking on independence.

Mr Banks added: "The other thing that is upsetting a number of members, because I have spoken to a number over the weekend, is the fact that they (the CBI) have not gone through a democratic process and discussed this with the membership.

"They believe they have a mandate through the council in CBI Scotland, but again I have spoken to one or two council members who have said they cannot remember this being discussed or voted upon.

"I would actually challenge the CBI to produce minutes in evidence of the fact that they went through a democratic process to come to this decision."

Responding to the withdrawals, a CBI spokesman said it took the decision to register with the Electoral Commission "independently and in our own right".

He added: "We have a clearly stated position that Scotland and the rest of the UK are stronger together on economic grounds as part of the union and this reflects the views of the vast majority of our members.

"Given that we regularly hold a number of events in Scotland, including our annual dinner and lunch, and since these will fall within the campaign period, registering with the Commission is a question of good governance and ensures we comply with the law during the referendum period.

"As the UK's biggest business group, our members employ around half a million people in Scotland, which gives us a significant voice in the referendum debate.

"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."

Responding to a query about consultation with members before registering as a backer of the No campaign, the spokesman added: "All CBI Scotland members have been regularly contacted by the CBI about the independence debate, with the opportunity to feedback their views.

"The final position was signed off by CBI Scotland Council - the membership decision making body."

The CBI has so far failed to respond to queries from BBC Scotland about how many Scottish-based members it has.

Business for Scotland has claimed the CBI has "80 members at most" north of the border.

In an open letter to CBI Scotland chief executive Iain McMillan, which was released on Friday, Select - which represents 1,250 engineering companies - said: "In taking this action you do not reflect our views."

The letter added: "The owners of our member companies and their employees, like the rest of the Scottish population, cover the full range of political affiliations.

"We are agreed that the way in which each and every person associated with Select votes is a matter for them alone."

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