Scotland politics

Scottish independence: More bodies leave CBI over referendum stance

CBI poster Image copyright CBI
Image caption The CBI says it is not seeking to influence how people vote in the referendum

Nine more organisations have left the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) over its stance in the Scottish independence debate.

Several bodies quit the business after it registered with the Electoral Commission as a "No" backer.

Eight universities, the Law Society, Skills Development Scotland, the SQA and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have all departed.

The CBI is the leading body in the UK representing large employers.

Its Scotland director Iain McMillan sits on the advisory board of Strathclyde University which has quit his group.

On Sunday, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities announced they had resigned from the CBI.

Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University also expressed its disapproval at the decision to register with the Electoral Commission but chose to remain a member.

It followed the departure of Glasgow Caledonian, broadcaster STV and two government agencies, Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland.

One of the latest to act has been Dundee University which said it had suspended its membership of CBI Scotland.

A statement issued by the academic institution said: "While the University of Dundee hosts debate from all sides in the discussion around Scottish independence, we maintain a strictly neutral position on the issue as an institution.

"We have therefore decided to suspend our membership of CBI Scotland for the time being. We wish to emphasise that our decision would have been the same regardless of which side of the independence debate CBI Scotland was positioned."

Two further universities joined the quit list on Wednesday - Highlands and Islands University and Heriot-Watt University.

'Non-partisan participant'

CBI Scotland's registration with the commission as a non-party participant allows it to spend up to £150,000 on referendum campaigning during the regulated period from 30 May until the vote on 18 September.

The lobby group has defended the move and said it was not seeking to influence how people voted in the referendum.

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society, said: "Over the last 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 whilst being a member of and actively contributing to another organisation which is formally registered with the Electoral Commission to campaign for a no vote. That is why we have resigned from the CBI."

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

Glasgow Caledonian University said the CBI's decision was "incompatible with the university's neutrality".

A spokeswoman added: "GCU will, however, continue to provide a forum for open debate on the independence referendum."

Campaign organisation

Highlands and Islands Enterprise said it was "inappropriate" to remain as a member of the CBI due to its own impartial political position.

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

Confirming its resignation, a spokesman for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said: "We have enjoyed a positive working relationship with the CBI for many years.

"However, as an apolitical public body and to retain our neutrality, we have decided to resign our membership of the CBI."

After news of the CBI's registration emerged last week, Scottish firms Aquamarine Power and the Balhousie Care Group announced they were quitting the business industry organisation.

A CBI spokesman said: "CBI members directly employ at least 500,000 people in Scotland, around a quarter of the private sector workforce. This is made up of firms headquartered in Scotland and other companies in the rest of the UK who have operations in Scotland."

"While any member deciding to leave is a cause for regret, the CBI is confident we have a mandate from the vast majority of our membership on the question of Scottish independence."

Responding to a query about what would happen to departing members' fees, the spokesman added: "Refunds are not normally made."

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