CBI accused of rehashing old anti-devolution arguments

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  By Sean Martin
 
The SNP has today condemned the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) for publishing an analysis of the Scottish Government’s White Paper which they say has simply reworked the same arguments the organisation put forward against devolution.
 
The CBI has claimed that the Scottish government’s tax and spend plans for the country post-independence failed to take into account a “squeeze on public services” brought on by an ageing population and warned that independence could negatively impact major economic sectors such as energy, higher education and defence.

A spokesperson for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hit back at the CBI report, pointing out that the organisation voiced its opposition to devolution by utilising many similar arguments and insisted that the paper was “one-sided” and “misrepresents the realities of independence in several key respects”.

The spokesperson added: “An independent Scotland will still enjoy barrier-free trade with the rest of the UK, which is in everyone’s interest. The only serious threat to our membership of the EU is Westminster’s proposed in-out referendum.”

The CBI analysis painted a bleak picture for Scotland should the country vote Yes in September and vote in an SNP government following independence.  It said that the fiscal outlook contained in the White Paper ignored the need for deficit reduction, suggested that at the very least an independent nation would have to “mirror the UK Government’s current pace” and that there were around £670m “unfunded commitments” in Scotland’s Future.

It warned that, as Scotland does most of its trade with the rest of the UK, a strong internal market could only be guaranteed by remaining within the union and urged the Scottish Government to unveil a plan B on currency.  The report also likened the concept of a sterling union zone to that of the Eurozone and cautioned that salutary lessons should be taken from that example.

On internal markets the CBI found that breaking the UK-wide market would increase costs for businesses both sides of the border, while dedicating substantial space to the debate over EU membership – which it concluded was “unlikely to be either a smooth or quick process with new terms potentially leaving Scotland worse off”.

CBI director-general, John Cridland, backed the findings of the report while criticising the White Paper for its “lack of clarity” which he said “runs the risk of jeopardising an independent Scotland’s future success”.

Cridland added: “The minute you draw a line between Gretna and Berwick, Scotland starts to drift apart from its biggest market and loses a significant amount of economic clout.”

Sturgeon’s spokesperson referred to Business for Scotland – a co-operative of businesses which believe independence will act as a catalyst for more entrepreneurialism and success in the country – as an example against the CBI’s contentions.

“The reality is that Business for Scotland has attracted more than 1,600 members since its launch just nine months ago,” said the spokesperson.  “That is the measure of success the positive vision for the economic opportunities of independence is having in attracting business people into the Yes campaign.”