Saturday 28 May 2011

The business of business

Down to business or down on business?  We have a newly re-elected SNP Scottish Government, the first to win a majority of the seats in Parliament since devolution in 1999 including a majority of constituencies, a party which took 876,421 Additional Member votes compared to the combined Labour/Conservative/LibDem total of 872,998, a party that topped the Additional Member vote in every single region in the country, and that won a majority of the constituencies in seven regions out of eight (one away from a majority in South of Scotland but still more constituencies there than any other party).  It seems to be a party that has a bit of a mandate but has chosen, quite rightly in my opinion, to set out on a second term of government with a degree of humility.

The plans for that second term are being laid out in front of people now and build on the record of the first term, a record that includes help for small businesses - the enterprises which will be the drivers of Scotland's future prosperity - and improvements to the business environment in Scotland.  That government, according to the Scotsman newspaper, has been "warned off" imposing a carrier bag tax by CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium even before the legislative programme has been announced.  Not that the SNP Government has ever advocated a carrier bag tax, it's being warned about implementing a policy it hasn't espoused - not because CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium actually believe that the bag tax is likely to be brought forward by the Government but because they want to pick a fight early in order to lay the ground for a battle on the large retailer levy which, hopefully, John Swinney will bring back.

The thing is, though, CBI Scotland and the Scottish Retail Consortium don't speak for Scottish business.  I've written before about how CBI Scotland actually has very few members (62 Scottish companies compared to the 20,000+ members of the FSB in Scotland) and lacks the muscle of some serious Scottish businesses.  I've been told since then that Reform Scotland, a think-tank, has more members than CBI Scotland.  The Scottish Retail Consortium is even worse, though, it doesn't really exist.  It's a branding of the British Retail Consortium and is run out of London, it doesn't have Scottish members and doesn't list a Scottish membership.  Its Scottish corporate address is a PO box in Gullane (bottom of its home page) but its press releases have a contact phone number in London.  So the Scottish Retail Consortium is a front for the British Retail Consortium whose members are ... yes, that's right, the big supermarkets and the big High Street chains.  These are the two organisations who think that their unelected voices should carry more weight than the elected voices of Scotland's politicians, parliament and government - and the Scotsman carried their comments without making clear just how small their voices are.  The people of Scotland elected their MSPs, their Parliament, their Government, I look forward to that Government delivering.

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