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CBI's indy outlook vital to help voters

The position of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on independence and devolution has been clear for a long time.

In the 1990s, the employers' organisation opposed devolution, saying it would be bad for Scottish business, and in recent weeks, its leadership has been speaking out against independence too. In Edinburgh last month, John Cridland, the head of the CBI, left no room for doubt about what he saw as the position of the business community on the issue. "Business is clear," he said. "We are stronger together."

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the CBI has registered with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of the No campaign. Registering means the CBI will stay within the rules when it campaigns for a No vote and it can spend up to £150,000 between May 30 and September 18, the day of the vote.

However, there are some questions about the role of the CBI. The first is to what extent members have been involved in the decision or been consulted on its position. Mr Cridland says business is clear, Scotland is better in the UK and indeed many businesses have spoken out against independence including Shell, BP, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life - vital businesses whose worries should not be ignored or dismissed.

But there is also support for independence in the business community marshalled by the pro-independence organisation Business for Scotland, which says it believes some CBI members support a Yes vote. Many other businesses prefer to stay neutral such as the wave energy company Aquamarine Power which announced yesterday it was leaving the CBI over its No position. Aquamarine Power is right to say it and other members should have been consulted by the CBI before it made its announcement.

In the coming months, care will also have to be taken over the money the CBI spends on supporting the No campaign. Alistair Darling has warned that Better Together will be heavily outspent by the Yes campaign but in recent months more donors have been coming forward to support Better Together and now the CBI could be spending a significant sum on the campaign as well. It is vital financial parity is maintained between the campaigns at all times.

Such problems with finance and consultation aside, the CBI has a right - indeed an obligation - to speak on the issue of independence and, given what the CBI has said on the issue, members should not be surprised by the stance it is publicly taking. The Business for Scotland group says the CBI should have remained neutral but all voices should be welcome in the debate and if a business representative organisation like Business for Scotland can speak out, then so too can the CBI.

What makes the business voice all the more important is the fact that the economy has emerged as one of the central issues for voters. The CBI should have consulted its members, but voters deserve as much information as possible on the economic and business issues, and business, including organisations such as the CBI and Business for Scotland, have a vital contribution to make.

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