CBI Scotland’s McMillan comes under fire as businesses refute referendum claims

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
CBI Scotland’s Iain McMillan has been forced into an embarrassing u-turn after it emerged that a statement from him claiming sixteen CBI member businesses had unanimously backed an early referendum at a recent meeting, was false.
 
Last week Mr McMillan, a director of CBI Scotland, said that the issue was raised at a meeting of its members and that they were ”very much at one” with his organisation’s calls for an early ballot.

In an official CBI Scotland press statement Mr McMillan is quoted saying: “”This was a broader turnout from membership, and the mood in that regard was very much at one with the position of the council of CBI Scotland – and that is that the referendum should be held sooner rather than later,”

The CBI Scotland director, and committed Unionist, called for a referendum to be held in 2013, which he said could be achieved more quickly if Edinburgh and London moved more quickly.

However Mr McMillan has now been forced to admit that his claims were false after several business figures at the meeting, which was also attended by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, issued public statements challenging his claims.

One businessman is quoted in the Sunday Herald as saying it was “absolutely not the case” that all the firms wanted an early vote and that there had in fact been a broad range of opinions.

Barclays Wealth, Edrington, Aquamarine Power and the Law Society of Scotland all publicly denied Mr McMillan’ claims.

According to the Sunday Herald a spokesman for Barclays Wealth said: “Barclays is agnostic on the timing of a referendum on Scottish independence and has never expressed a view on this subject.”
 
A spokesman for Edrington, said: “Edrington didn’t express any views at the meeting.  We were there to listen to the Secretary of State outline his thinking on the consultation.”
 
Martin McAdam, chief executive of Edinburgh-based wave energy company Aquamarine Power, said it was “absolutely not the case” there had been agreement on timing, and he had told the meeting he felt strongly it was for the SNP Government to decide.”

He said: “I have no idea how he [McMillan] came to arrive at that.  There’s no way that I could say that all the members who were present at the meeting had a single view in relation to the timing of the referendum.  That was not the case.  The fate of any referendum should be with the people of Scotland.”
 
Law Society of Scotland Chief executive Lorna Jack said: “The Society has not publicly expressed its view on the referendum, apart from to say that the legal position is not clear but we will be responding to the referendum consultations.”

SNP MSP John Wilson has now called on the outspoken CBI director to apologise for misrepresenting the views of Scottish businesses.

Mr Wilson, SNP MSP for Central Scotland and deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee, said:
 
“It is clear the CBI’s comment that it was ‘at one’ on referendum issues misrepresented some of the businesses it represents.  Mr McMillan has been found out and exposed as seriously misrepresenting the views of prominent Scottish businesses and organisations and should apologise.”

The MSP also questioned the role of Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore who he said must have known that Mr McMillan’s widely reported comments were “fiction”.
 
Mr Wilson added:

“It is important that the debate on Scotland’s future is done in an open and honest way, and that those who represent organisations don’t let their personal opinions interfere with their professional role – companies must not be misrepresented in this way.
 
“Aquamarine’s Martin McAdam’s comments that ‘the fate of the referendum should be with the people of Scotland’ are entirely true.  That is what should be driving this debate.
 
“Instead, Mr McMillan has been caught red-handed and left red-faced, having to do a U-turn on his comments earlier this week.
 
“The baseless scaremongering must stop.  This is far too an important issue as the vote on Scotland’s constitutional future will be one of the biggest decisions we will ever make as a country.”

Mr McMillan denied claims that he has allowed his own personal views to influence his statements.

“I have no personal view on this.  I have no personal prejudices.  My business is business advocacy to represent the views of the CBI.” he said.

However Mr McMillan has faced similar accusations in the past that he is misrepresenting the views of many members of his lobbying group and that his public statements are often based more on politics than on the business needs of his organisation’s members.

In 2010, one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen, Jim McColl attacked claims by CBI Scotland and accused it of being unrepresentative not only of Scottish business opinion but also of the views of its own members.

Back in 1997 Mr McMillan was criticised after making similar exaggerated claims about business worries relating to the then devolution referendum. 

McMillan had said that all 54 CBI Scotland members had expressed reservations about proposed tax raising powers for the Scottish parliament.  However it later transpired that 30 of the companies cited by the CBI Scotland chief had not even attended the meeting.