In news which was as big a surprise as the revelations that Davie Cameron is a posh Tory, Johann Lamont hates alicsammin, and Danny Alexander is on work release from the Muppet Show, the CBI’s North Britain branch has come out as an official supporter of the No campaign. Stunned yes supporters the length and breadth of the land who had hitherto looked to the CBI’s colonial governor Scotlandshire for words of wisdom and pats on the head for pro-indy puppies were shocked, shocked I tell you. Who knew?
In 1979 during the Home Rule referendum campaign, the CBI described the very limited powers on offer as the greatest threat to Scottish industry since the Luftwaffe – because in the 70s no one had heard of Godwin’s Law and hysterical comparisons with the Nazis were still a novelty. The CBI has continued in a similar vein ever since. In the 80s they hailing Thatcher as the best thing since square slice. In the 90s they warned that devolution would bring about the end of civilisation as Michael Forsyth knows it – and said that like it was a bad thing. Finding that civilisation hadn’t ended after all, they spent the naughties trading alicsammin insult pokemon cards with Labour and the Tories. So absolutely no one expected the CBI to oppose independence this time round. Except the 4 million people in Scotland registered on the electoral roll and everyone who has ever met, heard of, or read a press quote from, Iain McMillan, the heidbummer of CBI Scotlandshire.
The CBI did not consult its members before announcing its decision. Which was a bit rich coming from an organisation which has severely criticised trades union leaders for not balloting their membership. And even richer if the rumours are true, and CBI’s North Britain branch membership consists of just a handful of companies. There wouldn’t have been any need for a ballot. It wouldn’t have taken Iain that long to visit them all personally and ask.
Miffed that Iain didn’t pop round with a packet of Peek Freans empire biscuits to ask them over a cuppa what they thought about indy, a succession of companies have announced that they will be leaving the CBI.
First out the door was Balhousie Care Group, but since its chairman is Tony Banks, a leading light in the pro-independence Business for Scotland, the resignation was about as shocking as learning the CBI supported the No campaign. Colour us unsurprised. However Business for Scotland has been pushing for months for the CBI to fess up and either put its No credentials where its mooth is and drop the hypocritical pretence that it’s a neutral body – or keep its nose out. As an organisation BfS are in the same business as the CBI, and they’ve just given Iain McMillan a lesson in boardroom tactics. Business for Scotland weren’t engaging so much in a hostile takeover, as being hostile undertakers. They handed the CBI a loaded gun and helpfully showed Iain how to shoot his own foot off. He pulled the trigger.
But the real blast was the way the CBI went about it. It’s supposed to be a members’ organisation. It represents the views and interests of its members. But it’s never been arsed enough about those views and interests to ask its members what they are. Since a goodly number of Scottish businesses are either in favour of independence, or believe that commercial organisations have no business trying to influence democratic decisions, Iain’s now finding out the hard way. He’s not just shot himself in the foot, he’s blown his legs off.
The resignation of the Balhousie Care Group was immediately followed by Aquamarine Power, and yesterday STV also announced it would be leaving the CBI with immediate effect. Both companies stated that they wished to remain neutral – Aquamarine Power said that it was for individuals to decide how they wish to vote in a democratic ballot, as a company Aquamarine Power is obliged to respect their decision. STV issued a statement saying that as a broadcaster, they are obliged to remain politically neutral. This is not possible if they are members of an organisation which has explictly affiliated itself to a political position.
By today the Sunday Herald revealed that the dam was bursting, as one public body after another resigned from the CBI. Public bodies must also maintain political neutrality. You know, like the BBC … oh. Try again. Public bodies can’t be overtly associated with political bodies, and by registering as a No campaign supporter, the CBI has become a political body. Difficult legal questions may arise if funds from public bodies are used for a political campaign.
The Herald reports that other businesses will leave the CBI as a result of its decision to decide on their behalf. And yet others are rapidly trying to distance themselves from the CBI as fast as the legs of their pinstripe troosers will carry them.
The CBI has just proven Business for Scotland’s point for them, in what is, when you think about it, a beautifully elegant fuck you to Iain McMillan. The companies leaving the CBI are not doing so because they’re overt supporters of independence. They’re leaving because of legal and commercial considerations. If the CBI had bothered to consult its members, they might have found that out. Yet amongst the first rules in any successful business is know your market, and be aware of potential legal pitfalls. If Iain was appearing on Dragons Den, even Duncan Bannatyne – who thinks pointing out the advantages of independence is just the same as racism - would be telling him he’s out.
Business for Scotland have just made the CBI demonstrate that the CBI has no business sense – it’s not even capable of doing what’s in the interests of the CBI, never mind its members, and the wider interests of Scotland don’t enter into their calculations.
What business wants to be represented by an organisation that doesn’t know what good business practice is? Answers on a postcard to Iain McMillan.
And in new news, and further confirmation that the No campaign is increasingly living up to its name, and is no campaign at all – a new poll shows that when undecideds are excluded Yes is just 4% behind No. There’s a lot more work to do, but thanks to folk like Iain McMillan, it’s getting easier for the Yes campaign every day.