Scottish Government’s National Conversation had ‘No Legitimacy’ claims CBI Boss McMillan


The Director of the CBI in Scotland, Iain McMillan (pictured), has challenged the legitimacy of the National Conversation arguing that it has no equivalence to the Calman Commission on which he sat and that it proceeded “in defiance of the will of the Scottish Parliament”.

Mr McMillan was responding to the scathing criticism of his ‘New Year Message’ in which the well known critic of the SNP once again attacked the party claiming that it had ‘too many policies’.

Mr McMillan had also criticised the refusal to re-instate GARL and attacked the cost of the National Conversation which was the Scottish government’s consultation with the Scottish people over Scotland’s constitutional future.

However Mr McMillan’s message and his own legitimacy was called into question by the founder of Reform Scotland Ben Thompson who suggested the CBI Scotland chief’s attack was perhaps a “a one-man political crusade” aimed at stifling debate rather than a representative view of businesses. 

Mr Thompson also described criticisms of the cost of the National Conversation as “hypocritical” pointing out that Mr McMillan had himself sat on the exclusive Calman Commission that had in fact cost more.

Writing in The Herald’s letters pages Mr Thomson asked: “Is the New Year message from CBI Scotland representative of the businesses it represents or a one-man political crusade by its director, Iain McMillan, to stop discussion about greater fiscal powers for Scotland?”

Mr Thompson added: “He is being somewhat hypocritical to complain about the expense when he sat on the panel of the UK Government’s equivalent review, the Calman Commission, which was set up after the National Conversation and cost the taxpayer a good deal more.

“…we need to have a proper debate on the extent of fiscal powers transferred to Scotland and not sweep it under the carpet.”

The Calman Commission was the result of a pact by the three Unionist parties at Holyrood, its remit was to “to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom” and any consideration of independence was expressly forbidden.  This exclusively Unionist stance effectively ‘barred’ the SNP from participating, although the Scottish government did make a late formal submission.

The UK Labour Government expressed its support for the Commission, and took steps to identify suitable individuals to serve.  So tightly controlled was its selection process that George Reid, the highly respected former Presiding Officer of the parliament, was ruled out because he is a nationalist.

Mr McMillan responded yesterday in the same letters pages by describing his New Year message as a “balanced critique” and said Mr Thompson was “obsessed with fiscal autonomy” and possessed a “narrow pursuit of an unproven ideology”.

The long term critic of the SNP also suggested that, as a minority administration, the democratically elected Scottish government had no right to consult the Scottish people on the nation’s future and that the National Conversation was not equivalent to the Calman Commission saying:

“The Scottish Government, as a minority administration, proceeded with the National Conversation in defiance of the will of the Scottish Parliament. To argue, as Mr Thomson does, that the National Conversation has equivalence to Calman, and that there has been no public consultation or debate, is plain ridiculous.”
However Mr Thompson hit back saying:

“Mr McMillan’s criticism of the Scottish Government for consulting the public on their views about tax and borrowing powers through the National Conversation is puzzling.

“If, even as a minority administration, the Scottish Government is not able to consult the people it is responsible for then there is something very wrong with democracy. Is he really suggesting that the Scottish Government should not have the right to organise public consultation on a key matter affecting the Scottish economy?”

Mr Thomson added: “Mr McMillan’s suggestion that I am politically motivated is, to borrow his own phrase, plain ridiculous. Reform Scotland, of which I am chairman, is an independent, non-aligned think tank.

“Our proposals over the past three years have been praised and adopted by a variety of political parties on a range of subjects including local government, the voluntary sector, digital infrastructure, transport, health and education. We have produced two papers on fiscal responsibility and one on Scottish economic levers which contain the reasons why we believe greater fiscal responsibility is good for Scotland and they are available on our website should Mr McMillan wish to read them.

“He may also wish to read the CBI Northern Ireland’s own report dated 20 September 2010 on why a different corporation tax for Ulster would help the Northern Irish economy.”