This past week hasn’t been a stellar one for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). It’s being described as a u-turn in the press but that’s to ignore the wider damage it’s brought about not just to itself but quite possibly to the wider No campaign.
A little over a week ago the CBI announced it would be registering with the Electoral Commission as a backer of the No campaign. Campaigning runs officially from the 30th of May to the 18th of September and organisations like the CBI have to register if they intend to give more than £10,000 to either side, but contributions are capped at £150,000 (coincidentally the same amount the Scottish Greens-a political party with elected representatives in parliament.) At the time it said that ‘the CBI is confident we have a mandate from the vast majority of our membership on the question of independence.’
What a difference a week makes. After a plethora of public and private groups, including several Universities, the Law Society and the organisation which represents electricians left the organisation because its impartiality threatened their status, or funding, or both, the CBI has now changed its mind. Yesterday it announced it had asked the Electoral Commission to nullify its registration-it remains to be seen whether or not this is possible, though the EC are working with the CBI to find out.
The whole episode tells us a lot about how London power operates both internally and in how it sees the rest of the UK (and quite possibly the world, when it gets the chance.) The CBI took this decision apparently without consulting its members. As an organisation which self-identifies as ‘The Voice of Business’ it looks like they were happy to speak for a wide range of organisations in Scotland which by definition cannot have a stance on Independence, or be a member of an organisation which does. More frightening, not least for its members, is the question: whose business is CBI the voice of?
Searching for ‘Scottish Independence’ on their website will give you the gist;
March 7th 2014-The CBI responds to the dismissal of a currency union by telling the Scottish Government to outline its plan B (but stops short of demanding to know how the Westminster Government will justify an estimated £500M levy on rUK businesses through transfer rates resulting from what is a political stance)
February 13th 2014-The CBI responds to a speech by George Osborne on the currency union, saying “a single currency union requires deep fiscal and political integration, which the three main Westminster parties have made clear would be fatally undermined by an independent Scotland.” The statement fails to call on Westminster parties to do whatever necessary to secure business interests on both sides of the border in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote though.
Before they got into the “won’t someone please think of the children” stuff on Independence though they had some real insight;
20th April 2011-CBI Scotland Director, Iain McMillan, responds to the fall in 2010Q4 GDP figures by saying “The very poor weather in late November and December had a significant negative…” you get the picture, and he didn’t call on the Scottish Government to see what it could do to make the sky less angry.
Conversely if you look up ‘deficit reduction’ you’ll find a whole lot of articles (about 29 pages’ worth) talking about how the chancellor needs to stay the course, how there can be no plan B, and at one point how it has to be Plan A+.
It might seem strange to spend so many pixels talking about how a London-based business organisation is pro-Tory, but that’s just the point.
Reading through the CBI’s website tells us so much about the structure of UK business today. You have domestic concerns whose main representative body is a mouthpiece for whatever the chancellor says, while in the City there are global financial players who are really pulling the strings. The CBI tells people that the key to economic prosperity is deficit reduction, and implicitly that any and all costs to the public sector are a price worth paying, while executives at Canary Wharf and the City don’t need to tell anyone anything. They’re ahead of the game because they really are the game. Want to know what Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley think about Independence? They don’t say-and it doesn’t matter-they’re prepared for whatever comes their way. To them the CBI is the body which represents their latest source of debt packages to be traded in ways John Cridland and Co . couldn’t begin to understand.
The CBI is another part of Westminster’s attempt to get us to believe that the economy is in their hands, while they either tear down regulation or fail to properly maintain it, allowing for multinational financial firms to swoop in and prey on the populace. We shouldn’t waste our time thinking about the CBI and what business might think-instead just remember that this week the Treasury won a major victory by keeping a bank it essentially owns (RBS) to offering bonuses not in excess of 100% of salary. Other banks are free to do what they like, and bonuses are the least of it-if you’re outraged that someone’s earning twice the value of your house having screwed up in the markets, google Collaterised Debt Obligations.
I suppose socially we could be concerned that the BBC and ITV haven’t bothered to resign from the CBI, instead opting to suspend their membership during the referendum campaign. While some might see being able to look past the fact that your representative body is doing things which stab at the heart of your beloved ‘impartiality’ until they say they’ll stop is pragmatic, it’s also possible, I suppose, to see it as being just a cop-out. Or maybe it’s just that they realise what we’re waking up to on September 19th, and don’t want to reapply for membership. Bloody forms-all that red tape holding back our state broadcaster from being the new Fox.