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CBI referendum crisis deepens after new wave of resignations

SCOTLAND'S leading big ­business lobbying organisation has been rocked by a further spate of resignations in the wake of its decision to align itself officially with the No campaign in the referendum battle.

The Law Society of Scotland, Strathclyde University, Glasgow Caledonian University and ­Scottish Government economic agencies Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) all left the CBI yesterday.

It followed the departures of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities on Monday.

The Law Society of Scotland said its membership of the CBI - which last week registered with the Electoral Commission as a non-party participant in the referendum campaign - was incompatible with the society's non-partisan stance on independence.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) said it had no option but to resign after SNP ministers said membership of the business body was clearly inappropriate for government agencies.

A spokesman for the SQA, the national accreditation and ­awarding body in Scotland, said: "As an apolitical public body and to retain our neutrality, we have decided to resign our membership."

Two other government agencies, VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise, have already quit.

STV, which is bound by strict broadcasting rules on impartiality; Balhousie Care Group, a company chaired by prominent Yes campaigner Tony Banks; and pioneering wave energy firm Aquamarine Power have also left.

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society, said: "Over the past three years, the Law Society has been an active but firmly non-partisan participant in the debate on Scotland's future.

"We've asked difficult questions and raised issues that need addressed by both sides of the referendum campaign in order to better inform our members and the wider public.

"We do not believe we could credibly retain our impartiality while being a member of and actively contributing to another organisation which is formally registered with the Electoral Commission to campaign for a No vote."

A spokesperson for SDS said: "In light of CBI Scotland's decision to register as a campaign organisation for a No Vote in the referendum, Skills Development Scotland has no option but to resign as a member."

A spokeswoman for Highlands and Islands Enterprise said it was inappropriate to remain a member "given our impartial political position".

Confirming its decision to withdraw, a spokeswoman for Glasgow Caledonian University said: "The CBI's decision to register with the Electoral Commission on the issue of Scottish independence is incompatible with the university's neutrality. GCU will however continue to provide a forum for open debate on the independence referendum."

A Strathclyde University spokesman said: "The university has reviewed its membership of CBI Scotland and has taken the decision to withdraw from the organisation."

Dundee University is believed to be reviewing its membership. Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University has opted to remain a member although it voiced disapproval of the business body's move.

CBI director general John Cridland has said the organisation's decision to register with the ­Electoral Commission was a "compliance issue". Officials were concerned they would fall foul of election rules if they continued to present the organisation's view that independence would damage the Scottish economy among members and in press releases.

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