Monday, 21 April 2014

Shock as CBI backs No campaign

Okay, so my title is a little tongue-in-cheek. No-one can actually be surprised that the CBI is backing Better Together - at least no-one who's ever listened to them.

What is getting folk worked up into a lather today, though, is what this means for CBI members who are publicly funded and who therefore cannot endorse a political stance. Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland resigned almost immediately. The Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh followed suit today. Others will surely follow.

The Yes campaign doesn't know whether to clap with excitement or shake its head in sorrow. 'Business For Scotland', one of the many Yes campaign organisations whose funding and backing is as murky as the haar that hit Edinburgh yesterday, claimed the CBI move as "a victory" on Sunday. Others in Yes say the move was ill-considered and is unneeded. Even smarter ones worry about the divisions this campaign is opening up in civic society, and whether they can be healed.

One thing seems now to be widely accepted, though. If the CBI adopts a political position, publicly funded organisations cannot remain members.


Oh, erm, maybe not.

Here they are endorsing Labour immigration policy:
"Labour’s proposal to move away from a one-size-fits-all net migration target is a positive step."
CBI, 10 April 2014.

Here they are condemning a Conservative budget announcement:
"We do not think capping fees at this level is wise"
CBI, 27 March 2014.

Here's an explicit demand for reform of EU trade regulations:
"Companies called for a number of EU reforms"
CBI, 21 March 2014.

And those examples are just from the last month. Look further back and you'll see arguments for cutting government regulations in 2012demands for lower taxes for oil and gas companies in 2011, and attacks on Scottish Government finance policy in 2010.

In fact the CBI has been actively campaigning across a whole range of political spheres for as long as it has existed. The idea that it has only now taken a position which is incompatible with publicly funded or impartial bodies being members is arrant nonsense.

So the real question isn't why the CBI has taken a view on Scottish independence. It's why Scottish independence is the first issue that publicly funded and impartial bodies have felt the need to object to.

And there are plenty of theories there. After all, the Scottish Government pays their wages. Who'd want to bite the hand that feeds?


  1. It's strange isn't it? Why would the organisations leave the CBI in this case? It's almost as if there's something different about this time.

    Is it because, as you say, the "Scottish Government pays their wages"? Well, no, that can't be it, because the CBI has taken lots of stances against Scottish Government policy. Indeed it has already regularly issued statements condemning this particular policy over the last year. And none of these organisations resigned then.

    What can it be then? What's different this time?

    "Registering with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of Better Together allows the CBI to spend up to £150,000 on campaigning in the four months leading up to the 18 September vote."

    I'd guess that's what's different - if I were running a company which was a member of the CBI and they'd not consulted me before taking this decision, this is the point at which I'd be cancelling my membership too.

    1. That would be a half decent justification. It's a pity for you that that's not what they are actually saying. They are saying they resigned to remain impartial on the independence referendum.

  2. Yes, because funding the CBI (through membership fees) would clearly be being partial now that they've registered.

    It's different for companies - they can do as they like. But a government agency or university has to be seen to be impartial.

    If the CBI had registered to spend £150,000 on campaigning for Yes, these organisations would have had to cancel their memberships just the same.

    1. They have already been contributing membership fees to political campaigning.

      I think you need to consider that, while in the past the Scottish Government was happy to turn a blind eye to public money funding political campaigns, the nature of the independence referendum, the polarising effect of it and the desperation to turn every lever of power in their favour means it is a very different kettle of fish.

      The public sector will take on the Scottish Government on just about anything, except independence.

  3. What is very questionable is why these groups left the CBI NOW when earlier its position on #indyref was very clear (e.g. Media frenzy over a quiet Easter Weekend me thinks!

    1. I think I answered that in my first comment Charlie. I see the Law Society has taken the same path. Do you think they've been leant on? Or is the society just an SNP front?