Labour issued threats to businesses during pre-devo referendum campaign

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  By Martin Kelly
 
Claims by pro-Union campaigners that businesses are being bullied into silence have rebounded after it emerged a leading Scottish Labour politician once tried to threaten companies who gave financial backing to opponents of devolution.
 
Speaking in 1996, ahead of the referendum on devolution, Labour’s then Shadow Scottish Secretary George Robertson accused companies who opposed a Yes vote of betraying their country.

“Any company that puts money into a campaign against a Yes Yes vote is not only betraying the country but also our people.” He said.

The then Labour MP slammed businesses who helped bankroll the Tory led No campaign, adding:

“Before they plunder their coffers to support the Tories, they should consult their workers and their customers.”

Robertson also issued veiled threats against businesses who became involved in the debate over devolution saying they were “risking their own markets” by supporting opposing.

The emergence of the comments by the former Labour Minister will be embarrassing to the anti-independence campaign and follow repeated claims by leading anti-independence figures that businesses are refusing to enter the referendum debate due to “bullying” by those in favour of independence.

Last year, Alistair Darling claimed officials from the Scottish Government were telling businesses to “shut up” ahead of this year’s independence referendum.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Darling said Scottish business leaders had told him that people “who they believe to be – in one way or another – representing the Scottish government” have told them to stay out of the referendum campaign.

However, Mr Darling refused to provide any evidence backing his claims as did Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael who made similar allegations in December last year.

George Robertson went on to become a Minister in Tony Blair’s government before becoming secretary general of Nato in 1999.  He now sits in the Lords and is an adviser to BP and Cable & Wireless.

The unelected Labour peer is a key figure in the independence debate and has intervened several times, most recently writing an article for the Washington Post where he claimed Scottish independence could lead to the “re-Balkanisation” of Europe.

However, in his speech in 1996, Robertson attacked the possibility of unelected peers playing a significant role in the debate over Scottish devolution.

Robertson said: “Are you telling the Scottish people that unelected peers – whose right to sit in the Lords is based on accidents of history – will seek to block a Bill brought in by the elected Government?

“I have to warn you that the threat to deploy peers against a devolution referendum Bill is a sinister and dangerous act.”

Last month Newsnet Scotland revealed that the Scottish Parliament was stripped of powers over energy after unelected peers amended a House of Commons Bill.