By a Newsnet reporter
The Electoral Commission has announced it has nullified the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) registration as a formal campaigner against Scottish independence.
The Electoral Commission removed the CBI from its register because, it said, the CBI did not ensure that the person who signed their application was authorised to do so. The Commission’s decision was taken after a review of the CBI application alongside the legal requirements set out in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013.
The commission confirmed that the lack of an appropriate signature in the CBI application is the only reason why the CBI has been removed from the Electoral Commission’s register.
Explaining the decision, the Electoral Commission’s head in Scotland John McCormick said the reason for the decision was due to the form having been signed by a person who was not authorised.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Mr McCormick said:
“The law, and our own guidance, state who can sign a permitted participant application form. In this case, the CBI submitted a form to the Electoral Commission that had been signed by the wrong person and their application is void.
“The Electoral Commission will meet shortly with the CBI to make sure they understand the campaigning rules at this referendum. We will monitor their activities over the ‘referendum period’ as part of the monitoring work we do ahead of any election or referendum.”
The announcement two weeks ago by the CBI that it had registered as an official supporter of the No campaign resulted in controversy as members resigned complaining their own neutrality had been compromised.
The decision was initially defended by the CBI’s Director General John Cridland who told the BBC his organisation was merely reflecting the views of its members. Immediately following their initial registration, the CBI insisted the decision had been taken by the organisation’s Scottish Council.
Interviewed on Radio 4 days after the organisation announced it had registered, Mr Cridland made it clear the decision to register had been taken collectively at top level: “This is a really key point. We took a decision that we needed to comply with the Electoral Commission’s regulations.
“Clearly like any other organisation, we are an independent organisation, but like any other organisation, we have to operate within the law, and the decision we took is that simply to do our normal activities … between now and the referendum, we were advised we needed to comply with the Electoral Commission’s rules because we have a position on the issues.”
However following increasing pressure amid resignations from the lobbying group, Mr Cridland appeared to alter his explanation of the events that led to the organisation registering. Speaking on Radio Scotland last week Mr Cridland gave another version of events and said the decision to register with the Electoral Commission had in fact been taken by a lone junior official in London.
Denying he had any knowledge of the decision to register, the CBI Chief said: “We should not have registered in the first place, it was not an authorised decision, it was a mistake.”
The BBC has also become embroiled in the controversy after it emerged the corporation was itself a member of the right wing lobbying group. However the broadcaster has refused to resign and has instead announced it will suspend its membership on May 30th.
The refusal of the BBC to resign resulted in the NUJ claiming the broadcaster was damaging its own impartiality. NUJ members at the BBC’s HQ in Glasgow have called on the brosdcaster to quit the CBI immediately, the NUJ has written to BBC Director General Tony Hall.
Claims by the CBI that it is ‘impartial’ in the independence debate have been ridiculed by supporters of independence who have pointed out that the organisation’s own website contains significant amounts of anti-independence literature.
The organisation is already an acknowledged opponent of Scottish independence, and opposed devolution prior to the 1997 referendum that led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament.