The Electoral Commission has agreed to a request by the CBI employers’ group to cancel its registration as a No campaign group in the Scottish independence referendum, limiting what it can say in support of the union in the run-up to the vote.
The CBI asked the commission to declare its registration “null and void” after its decision to register prompted the resignation last week of two companies, along with broadcaster STV and a number of Scottish universities, public agencies and industry associations. The BBC also suspended its membership.
The commission accepted the CBI’s case that the application was not signed by someone authorised to do so by the board.
The CBI has said it was an “honest mistake” by an official in London, made in the belief this would ensure that the organisation’s regular Scottish events, including an annual dinner and lunch, complied with referendum rules that apply between May 30 and September 18.
During that period, organisations not registered are barred from activities that could be seen as part of a campaign to influence voters in the referendum.
The CBI has long supported Scotland’s place in the UK. John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: “We all now realise, in a way that wasn’t as obvious before this difficult episode, that what any organisation can do, other than a political party, from May 30 has to be factual, balanced, economic evidence.”
He said the decision removed the question mark over the CBI’s impartiality and political independence. “There is no change in the CBI’s position, which is that it is a matter for the Scottish voter, but we have asked economic questions and on economic grounds our position has been made clear.”
The rules bar non-registered organisations from carrying out activities such as broadcasts, sending unsolicited material to voters or holding any referendum-specific press conferences.
The commission said its decision was taken after a review of the CBI application alongside the legal requirements set out in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013.
John McCormick, electoral commissioner for Scotland, said: “The law and our own guidance state who can sign a permitted participant application form. In this case, the CBI submitted a form to the Electoral Commission that had been signed by the wrong person and their application is void.
“The Electoral Commission will meet shortly with the CBI to make sure they understand the campaigning rules at this referendum. We will monitor their activities over the ‘referendum period’ as part of the monitoring work we do ahead of any election or referendum.”