By Martin Kelly
A pro-independence campaign group is today claiming victory after a London based lobbying group confirmed its intention to campaign against Scottish independence.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today confirmed it will campaign on behalf of the Better Together organisation after registering with the Electoral Commission.
In a statement, a CBI spokesman said: “The CBI has clearly stated its position in the Scottish referendum debate, that Scotland and the rest of the UK are stronger together as part of the union
“We have registered this with the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law.”
The announcement has been hailed as a victory by pro-independence campaign group Business for Scotland (BFS) after the group said it had been pushing the Electoral Commission to designate the CBI as an official campaigner on behalf of No.
In a statement issued following the news, Tony Banks, a CBI member until today and Chair of Business for Scotland, said: “It is abundantly clear that the CBI is not representing its members views honestly. I am therefore writing to the Director General John Cridland today withdrawing my company membership.
“CBI registering as a political participant under pressure from BFS is a major blow for the No Campaign and puts the CBI in an untenable position. It has attempted to hijack its members without proper consultation on their views and many must now feel they are in an impossible position.
“There should have been a transparent sign-off by all members in the same way as Business for Scotland asks each of its members to sign the Business Declaration in favour of independence.”
A survey undertaken and announced today by Business for Scotland asked 22 CBI members for their position on independence. Two were against (but only in a personal capacity), three in favour and the remainder staunchly neutral.
There is no official record of members the CBI actually has in Scotland as the organisation refuses to give figures, declaring the numbers to be “confidential.” Research and FoI requests indicate that the number is between 60 and 80.
In January 2011, SNP member Calum Cashley claimed research that he had undertaken suggested the CBI in Scotland had no more than ninety members.
The 2013 Chair of the CBI in Scotland, Nosheena Mobarik, was appointed a Director of the Better Together anti-independence campaign and has expressed her views clearly on a number of occasions.
At the CBI annual dinner, she attacked the pro-independence campaign arguing that: “the CBI has a rich engagement on constitutional matters” and that “our members approved a referendum strategy” that broadly follows that of Better Together.
Business for Scotland has claimed that there is no evidence that the policy position reflects the views of the majority of members in Scotland.
“Yet the CBI tries to represent itself as an organisation concerned with the interests of business,” added Mr. Banks. “At Business for Scotland, we represent thousands of business people, especially those in the SME (small to medium sized enterprises) sector, who believe that independence will benefit business and that our economy will thrive following a Yes vote.
“We know that SMEs are the backbone of our private sector economy and most of our 1,700 members come from this sector. We especially benefit from the support of self-made entrepreneurs who view independence as the business opportunity of a lifetime.”
Chief Executive of Business for Scotland, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, said: “This is a major victory for Business for Scotland. We have been calling in public and requesting in private that the Electoral Commission (Scotland) ask the CBI to register as a No campaigner.
“That they did so on Thursday is a major victory for us and a blow to the No campaign. We have always accepted Business for Scotland will register as a campaign participant once the CBI has and we will now do so now.”
The relationship between the CBI in Scotland and the Scottish Government has been strained since the SNP came to power in 2007. In January 2012 CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan was 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, was false.
In January this year, McMillan rejected claims from the SNP he did not represent the views of the CBI’s Scottish members when he voiced concern about independence.
Following news of its registration as an official No campaigner, two companies announced their withdrawal from the group.
Martin McAdam, chief executive officer of wave energy company Aquamarine Power, said: “The CBI has registered with the Electoral Commission as a No campaign backer without consultation with its members.
“As a business, Aquamarine Power has been firmly neutral on the matter of independence. We have adopted this view after consultation with our board and management team and as a consequence we can no longer remain members of the CBI.
“Although Aquamarine Power’s staff and board members may have personal views on the matter of independence, this has no influence on our agreed company position.”
Aquamarine Power joins the Balhousie care home group, which has also announced it is to leave the CBI.
Electrical contractors union Select, which represents 1,250 companies, has called on the CBI review its decision.
Select said: “The owners of our member companies and their employees, like the rest of the Scottish population, cover the full range of political affiliations and, within Select, we are agreed that the way in which each and every person associated with Select votes on September 18 is a matter for them alone.
“We would appreciate it if CBI reviewed this decision before taking action.”
The union said it had not withdrawn from the CBI.