Exclusive: Ex-CBI boss tells Yes voters ‘You’re lucky to have lost’
The outgoing head of the employers’ body CBI Scotland has delivered a parting shot to the pro-independence lobby by claiming those who voted Yes had enjoyed a lucky escape.
Iain McMillan, who stood down as director this week after 19 years in the job, urged those campaigning for a second referendum to drop their demands and “avoid putting Scotland through more pain.”
In the first of a two-part exclusive interview with Daily Business he also defended the record of the CBI and its own involvement in the referendum campaign. “Scotland would have borne all the costs of statehood and promises that were simply unaffordable,” he said.
“Those who voted Yes because they thought they would be better off or those who thought they could be worse off have had a fortunate escape. They lost the referendum. Let’s not put Scotland through that kind of pain again.”
He said he had no regrets about his organisation’s controversial support for the No campaign despite a number of companies and other bodies resigning their membership.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp of the pro-indy Business for Scotland group described McMillan as “out of touch”.
The CBI became embroiled in a political crisis in the early part of this year when it emerged that a London-based employee had registered it with the No campaign. After initially defending its position the director-general John Cridland was forced into an embarrassing u-turn, claiming it had been “an innocent mistake”.
McMillan, who said he was a Scottish and British patriot, admitted he had made the CBI’s case against independence “quite forcefully” and that “there are some in the political world who do not like that.”
But it was well within the bounds of his remit. “I did not overstep the mark. I was always careful to express my members’ views.”
He insisted the CBI was undamaged by the affair and refuted suggestions it had lost credibility. “Not at all. The CBI is a fine organisation. If we were not credible and influential doors in the corridors of power would close, and they have not.
“What happened was uncomfortable but I do not think the CBI is damaged at all. In many ways our reputation is enhanced because we were one of the few organisations that stood up and defended Scotland’s place in the UK and the benefits of being in the union. No other organisation was willing to do that.”
McMillan has been one of Scotland’s staunchest campaigners against independence but said it has always been a reflection of his members’ wishes.
He said that contrary to popular belief the CBI did not oppose devolution, only that it had not found the business case for devolution to have been proved.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, director of Business for Scotland, said: “It’s a completely incredible statement from Iain McMillan, whose organisation was clearly badly damaged by its stance on independence. How can anyone say the organisation wasn’t damaged?
“Iain McMillan continues to be completely out of touch with the political realities of Scotland. The vast majority of people in Scotland are now questioning whether or not the vows of extra powers can actually be delivered. Even Gordon Brown doubts that, and is encouraging people to sign a petition to force Westminster to deliver the promises he himself made.
“Our members believe that we have had a tremendous opportunity pass us by, the opportunity to use the guaranteed economic powers of independence to create jobs, wealth and grow our economy in a more sustainable way.
“Business for Scotland is working to ensure that the additional powers promised are substantial and will be delivered. The CBI should be joining with other business organisations across Scotland to do the same.”
(This article was published in The Scottish Daily Mail on 4th October 2014)
McMillan Interview, Part Two tomorrow:
His relationship with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon; his views on what the UK should do next and his reflections on almost two decades in the job.