CBI Scotland’s McMillan to quit role in wake of referendum debacle

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The controversial head of the CBI in Scotland, Iain McMillan, is to step down from his role as director.
 
The resignation of the man who has led the lobbying group in Scotland for twenty years comes in the wake of an embarrassing debacle that has led to a mass exodus of organisations from the CBI north of the border.

However, according to the Sunday Times newspaper, McMillan will not resign his position until near “the end of the year”, ensuring he remains in place up to the independence referendum.

The news is the latest blow to the reputation of the lobbying group which has found itself at the centre of a referendum row after it registered with the Electoral Commission as a formal backer of the No campaign.  The news, announced last week, resulted in the resignations of almost twenty organisations including STV.

On Thursday the BBC announced its own intention to suspend its membership from May 30th, up to the day of the referendum.  However, according to former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman, a meeting will take place on Monday at BBC Scotland’s HQ in Glasgow where members of the BBC Scotland news team are expected to express their concerns regarding the BBC’s refusal to resign from the CBI, and to remain a member until May 30th.

However, the situation took a twist on Friday evening when the CBI’s Director General John Cridland announced a surprise U-turn, and insisted the CBI’s registration had been made in error.  Mr Cridland revealed that the organisation had aproached the Electoral Commission with a view to having the registration nullified.

The news that it’s Scottish head is to step down later this year will fuel speculation that McMillan is the first casualty of the chaos that has hit the organisation.  However a source close to Mr McMillan has denied the decision to step down has anything to do with the current fiasco.

In a statement, McMillan, who is 63, said: “Two years ago I made it clear to the CBI that I did not wish to go on to the age of 65 before retiring. We agreed in January that I would retire towards the end of the year.”

A committed Unionist, Iain McMillan has himself courted controversy with a string of attacks on the Scottish Government and independence.  In a recent Holyrood appearance in front of MSPs, the CBI Scotland Chief was asked whether his anti-independence views reflected those of his organisations membership.

Claims by the body, that it speaks on behalf of Scottish business, have been challenged by many pro-independence campaigners.  Research conducted by pro-independence group Business for Scotland suggests that CBI Scotland represents only around 90 businesses, fewer since the resignations.

In 2012 McMillan himself was forced to admit claims he made suggesting businesses had called for an early independence referendum, were actually false.

The CBI Scotland spokesman had 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.  However Mr McMillan was 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.

Mr McMillan denied suggestions that he had 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.

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 referred to by the CBI Scotland chief.

Meanwhile, The SNP has claimed the CBI issue is the just the latest instalment in what it claims is a series of gaffs that have become increasingly problematic for the anti-independence camp.

Describing the latest embarrassing example as “Project Fear morphing into Project Farce”, the nationalists have highlighted a series of backfiring scare stories and increasingly ludicrous statements from No campaign politicians.

Kenneth Gibson MSP said:

“From mobile phones charges to Lord Robertson’s ‘forces of darkness’, from own goals on Sterling to Gordon Brown’s two-faced pensions raid, the No campaign needed this latest massive blunder like a hole in the head.

He added: “…it was laughable when they threatened to annex Faslane after a Yes vote and then had an embarrassing climb-down the very next day.

“And who can forget the time we were told that Scotland would have to give back Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas if after we vote Yes?!

“The bluff and bluster by the Westminster establishment on currency isn’t true either – the pound is Scotland’s currency every bit as much as it is the rest of the UK’s, and a currency union is in the interests of both, which is why it will happen.

“The Woes of the Nos is entirely their own making; they have propelled themselves into a very difficult position as their leaders at Westminster have absolutely no positive vision for Scotland.”

Referring to newspaper reports which quoted a senior Government minister admitting that a currency agreement after a Yes vote would be negotiated, Mr Gibson added:

“What the No campaign say in public and what they know to be the case in private are two completely different things – the reason they are furious with this UK Government Minister is because he or she had the temerity to tell the truth about the pound.

“That is the conclusion of this particular issue – and it will give even more people the confidence to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands by voting Yes in September.”