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Why CBI Scotland has made a big mistake

Two of the most important factors in any business are integrity and honesty.

I'm sure the Confederation of British Industry would agree with this. Its problem is that it manifestly fails to practise what it preaches.

Some businesses in Scotland have taken a very public view on September's independence referendum - such as Shell, BP and the Royal Bank. Many more have chosen to keep their opinions private or have taken no view at all.

As a self-declared representative organisation of corporate Scotland, the CBI should reflect the broad position of its members and be an interested but benign observer in the debate, adopting a position of strict neutrality. It has not. It has acted, and continues to act, as an enthusiastic flag-bearer for the No campaign.

Now it has been smoked out. Under pressure from Business for Scotland, it has registered with the Electoral Commission Scotland as an approved participant on the No side. It's hardly been a secret that the CBI has been cheerleading for Better Together, but, with the regulated period of the campaign coming up, it's been forced to make it official. We will now make the same registration.

However, in solving one problem for itself, the CBI has created another, much bigger, one. It is now completely out of kilter with its own membership, which it has effectively hijacked on this issue. By failing to consult them on its political stance, it has pulled them into the No camp too, regardless of their actual affiliations.

This is arrogant, dishonest and foolish - not to mention counter-productive. Several of their member companies have contacted us today, expressing deep concerns about effectively being annexed by the No campaign.

I have already written my letter of resignation to the CBI, as have Aquamarine Power and Select, the electrical contractors' union that has 15,000 members, is considering its position.

Just how many members, and therefore how much influence, does the CBI have in Scotland? We don't know, because it won't tell us. CBI director-general John Cridland claims it represents half a million employees in Scotland. Yet there is no evidence they actually have any more than 80 members here. One suspects the reason they won't come clean on their numbers is because they're just too embarrassing to reveal.

Furthermore, the CBI represents largely London-based companies and corporations rather than the 99.3% of Scottish businesses that are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) employing about 1.1 million people.

Business for Scotland represents the owners and directors of more than 1700 Scottish enterprises, with that number growing by the day, and largely from the SME sector.

Each and every one of our members signs a business declaration in support of independence and they do so as individuals, not on behalf of their companies. We believe all companies must remain neutral but individuals can state their views freely. We have always said and accepted that we will register with the Electoral Commission as a campaign participant once the CBI has done this, and now we will do so.

The CBI has form on the constitutional question. Scottish director Iain McMillan opposed devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament. He opposed the proposals of the Calman Commission and now opposes independence. We know the CBI was wrong on devolution and it is wrong again now.

Corporate Scotland needs a strong and impartial voice to represent its interests. It is a shame, not least for its own members, that the CBI remains so negative about Scotland's future.

There's only one thing worse than being foolish and that's being irrelevant. That, I fear, is where Mr McMillan and his colleagues are headed.

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