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Debate about two unions leaves the CBI in a fankle

In 2006, Team Cameron staged a Tory referendum to secure backing for a statement of "aims and values".

They called it Built to Last. Only 24.6 per cent of members endorsed this piece of work, but that became a Yes result of 92.7 per cent. Victory was declared.

It was a win, said the Cameroons, for modernisation. It was also an affirmation of attitudes that are eternally Tory. Top of the list was "To encourage enterprise in all its forms..." There followed familiar phrases: dynamic economy, wealth creation, economic stability, fiscal responsibility, competitiveness, the entrepreneurial spirit.

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Mr Cameron was changing his party, so he thought, but he was not tampering with Holy Writ. The Conservatives stand for business or nothing at all. That, like it or not, is just one of the facts of British life, recognised by every upwardly-mobile overpaid executive and every zero-hours serf. It is both practical - for money likes to talk - and philosophical.

In setting out his stall eight years ago, Mr Cameron also had hopes of laying a ghost. The spectre of Europe had been haunting his party since Margaret Thatcher began to denounce her own policies. The latest leader seemed to hope that, somehow, his sceptics would just shut up if he made and broke the promise of a referendum. He had not reckoned with the 2010 influx of Tory MPs or, as we now know, with Ukip.

Douglas Carswell, still MP for Clacton, is the braying stalking horse for this persistent, growing faction. Now he holds hands with Nigel Farage. Those of a like mind would either be out of Europe on the first charabanc, or they would set terms for EU reform that other members of the EU would never accept. The end game is the same. In much of England, it is deemed a vote-winner.

So what happens if the party of business is told business doesn't care one bit for such talk? What happens when the fundamental, traditional aims of Conservatism collide with the eurosceptic mania? And - if anyone involved is listening - what about the rest of us?

We were given a glimpse this week, after CBI Scotland got itself into another fankle over its status as a player in the Scottish referendum. Despite a little difficulty with the Electoral Commission, the CBI contrived an all-outlets broadcast for Mr Cameron to say that - I paraphrase - the UK is terrific and your jobs depend on it. The Prime Minister was not given a free dinner, however.

Sir Mike Rake, president of the confederation, took the opportunity to tell Mr Cameron the promise of a referendum on a hypothetically reformed UK relationship with Europe, supposedly due for 2017, is of "real concern" to business people. The sub-text was simple: those such as Sir Mike, chairman of BT, are not even slightly impressed by the Tories' EU posturing. The warning shot said that Mr Carswell, Mr Farage, Boris Johnson, and - by clear implication - the PM himself, had best stop messing around.

The only surprise was the timing. The Conservatives, avowed party of business, are on a cleft stick thanks to their eurosceptic obsessions. The contradiction is both plain and absurd. It is, after all, the same nonsense that consumed Mrs Thatcher in her dotage. But CBI Scotland's Glasgow affair was supposed to rally "Scottish" business folk against a Yes vote in September. Instead, it raised the question of two referendums.

Mr Cameron got to make his boilerplate Unionist speech. Sir Mike spoke, sincerely no doubt, of Scotland's independence as "a one-way ticket to uncertainty with no return". For people who have to make decisions in Scottish business and who favour No, it was no less than you would have expected.

A contradiction remained, nevertheless, and BT's chairman, wittingly or not, laid it bare. When it comes to the EU and referendums, CBI Scotland needs to think things through. On the one hand there is Mr Cameron's party, never tired of shredding itself over Europe, forever demanding the right to flounce out of the EU if impossible demands are not met. On the other hand there is a Yes vote and a guarantee of relationships and trade. Where's the smart business choice?

At this point, a smokescreen usually appears. Within that murk it is alleged Scotland would be outside of the EU at the moment of independence and toiling, nose pressed to the window, to gain membership rights. No-one, even those who raise the smoke, believes it for an instant. Citizenship rights are at stake. Precedents are lacking. Territory - never once yielded by the EU - becomes pertinent.

You needn't even mention oil. You needn't detain yourself with the fiction an independent Scotland would "have to join the euro": ask the Swedes. Then ask the Greenlanders how hard the EU fought to keep 50,000-odd people and their fishing rights within the union. Then ask the politicians of Europe what Scotland is really worth to their project.

Speaking in Glasgow, Mr Cameron made a point of extolling the virtues of his Union for Scottish trade. He didn't say much that was false, as far as he went. The members of CBI Scotland could equally ask, however, what's at stake for them if the Prime Minister's party takes its Little England prejudice towards foreigners to the extreme. For Scottish exporters, the EU is no small matter.

Sir Mike might have brought that up, had the thought suited the occasion. Any uncertainty flowing from Scotland's claim to independence is as nothing to the schemes being cooked up on the Tory back benches, after all. Nor is that party reliable, these days, if stability is your chief concern as a business person. But the Conservative leadership will trade all sense and self-respect to put the Ukip genie back in the box: that, for Scottish business, is the reality.

There is that other detail. What about the rest of us? The CBI and the Tory Party have knelt in prayer together for a very long time. Those who are not within the church must wonder how a basic CEO ever got more than the average share of votes, or why one pressure group can summon a prime minister for a lecture. CBI Scotland is in a muddle over two referendums. Perhaps its guidance is not perfect.

The Tories are far from done with their eurowar. At a guess, they have not yet begun to knock lumps out of one another. For those sceptics, the idea anyone could glory in being a citizen of Europe is baffling. With not the slightest hint of irony, they say national independence and rights matter most. But not your rights, and not your independence, and not your commerce in Europe.

If there is a No vote in Scotland in September the sceptics' project to remove the country and its trade from the European sphere will resume without a blink. One wing of Mr Cameron's party is desperate for the day. Logically, CBI Scotland should be demanding a Yes. But some rational business doubt will do instead, for now.

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