Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Who Do "Business for Scotland" Represent?

According to the Scottish Government Statistical Bulletin;
  • Exports to the rest of UK (from Scotland) in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) are provisionally estimated at £47.6 billion, of which £25.3 billion is attributable to service sector companies and £12.7 billion is attributable to manufacturing sector companies.
Given that the potential impact on this £47.6bn of trade is one of the big issues for business in the Independence debate I think we can agree that any "Scottish Business" voice would need to include representation from businesses involved in this trade to have any credibility.

This is why I'm amazed that "Business for Scotland" gets any airtime at all. As I show in painful detail in this post, the identified Members of Business for Scotland can be fairly summarised as;
  • 30 "business professionals"
  • 28 people who have Small Company directorships; businesses with no declared turnover or employee figures.  These are predominantly consultancies, property companies and service companies; I can't identify any material trading links with rUK and none can be considered major employers
  • 6 People who have or have had larger scale business experience
    •  A one-time retail entrepreneur who's only material company directorship now is of a Scottish co-ed school
    • The founder of a £5.6m turnover domestic Scottish property preservation company (with no declared employee figures)
    • The founder of an £8.7m voice and data solutions company  focused on the domestic Scottish market (with no declared employee figures)
    • A Director of a £6.6m turnover software business that employs 75 staff but has only £443k turnover in the UK (including Scotland)  
    • The founder of an (exclusively Scottish) property development company with a turnover of £47m and 233 employees
    • The founder of an (exclusively Scottish) care home group with £22.1m turnover and 879 employees
That the directors of Business for Scotland include a former SNP MSP and someone who stood (unsuccessfully) as an SNP local council candidate is probably not relevant.

That their spokespeople have had so much TV and Radio airtime is - quite frankly - mind boggling.

*****

I became involved in the Independence Referendum debate when I realised that a Yes vote would make it harder for the businesses I'm involved with to continue to thrive whilst remaining based in Scotland. The full background is explained in my Bona Fides post and in my detailed post on Scotland's Trade with rUK where I reluctantly conclude: "The businesses I am involved with are already making contingency plans for the case of a Yes vote. Our heads tell us that we would need to relocate our stock-holding and warehousing outside Scotland to protect our businesses under that scenario"

We are not unusual businesses; current best available estimates are that 37% of jobs in Scotland depend on links to the rest of the UK1. It's unsurprising therefore that I see many businesses with the same concerns; some speak out, more are afraid to for fear of backlash and recriminations.

But there is a body that claims to speak for Scottish Business in this debate: Business for Scotland. They are registered with the Electoral Commission as a Yes Campaigning Body and get a surprising amount of airtime.

I must confess I was intrigued by these guys; their website comes across as rather rampantly nationalist in tone and their articles and spokespeople seem singularly unimpressive.  I'm genuinely curious to understand what sort of business people are in favour of independence.  I've covered most of the arguments I've heard in this blog and whilst there are emotional and political "Yes" arguments that I can understand (without agreeing with) I haven't seen any rational economic or business arguments for independence. I wondered: are any of these businesses material contributors to the estimated 962,0001 Scottish Jobs that depend on links to the rest of the UK? 


So Who - Exactly - Are Business for Scotland?
Well the first thing I did was ask them.  Actually the first thing I did was read some of the content in their website; this got me annoyed, so I 'engaged' with their MD Michelle Thomson on Twitter (Twitter biog:  "Property Investor, Musician, Maverick"). Let me share some highlights (I'd give links but she appears to have deleted these Tweets);





Of course she has not responded "off Twitter".   It was clear I'd get nowhere asking directly so I went and did my own digging.  If you've followed my blog you'll know I'm willing to put in the effort to seek out primary data.

I went through every one of the 64 named individuals on the member profiles section of their website and cross-checked to ensure I included all of the Directors of Business for Scotland Limited. I used Creditsafe, Google, Linked-In and Companies House to identify all of their current UK Company directorships.  In some cases they don't even name the companies that they are involved with in their profiles; I was able to track them down without too much difficulty and am pretty confident I found all of them. Having identified all of the current UK directorships held by these BfS members I then checked Companies House filed accounts and looked for the most recent declared turnover and number of employees.  For those who aren't aware: a company does not have to declare it's turnover or employee numbers if it qualifies as a Small Company2

[I have no interest in using this blog to embarrass individuals or to 'expose' company links if they choose not to explicitly declare them.  If anybody (including reputable journalists or indeed BfS themselves) would like to see the background work I would be happy to share.]

I want to be very clear about this: I am not questioning the right of any of these individuals to have a view on the Independence Referendum or to speak out .  I am merely seeking to answer the questions that the Business for Scotland MD seems so reluctant to address;
  • Roughly how many Scottish Employees are represented by their members?
  • Do they represent any businesses involved in Trade with rUK?
The BfS website states:
Our members are business professionals, owners, directors and entrepreneurs from all over Scotland, some have small businesses, some fairly large ones

I was unable to find *any* Limited Company Directorships for 30 of the Featured Members
I guess these are the 'business professionals' referred to; basically people who have (or have had) jobs. Again let me be clear; I am not disparaging the professional credentials of any of these people; I'm just trying to assess the extent to which they are representative of Scottish Business; I list them all below with links to their profiles and extracted quotes so you can form your own view  (where companies are referred to I have searched for them and they do not appear to be registered limited companies).

John Cookeextensive background in public policy, public affairs and communications
Adam Davidson: owns a BoConcept franchise
Alex Grantrecently retired, formally Chief Operations Officer for the airline bmi
Rachel Holmes:  a lecturer in taxation, accountancy and finance at Edinburgh Napier University
See her car-crash select committee performance here (44-47 mins and 1:01 are particularly cringe-inducing)
David HoodProfessional market (sic) and speaker
Mark Listera business consultant 
Catherine McLeanindependent, professional consultant
Sheila McLeana Programme Management Office specialist working with clients on a contract basis
Ken McNeilprincipal of McNeil Stevens Financial Planning
Helen MacDonough: owns a boutique hair salon
David Macfarlane: chef, innovator and author
Jill Murphy:  founding partner at ThinRedLine Design a marketing and branding company
Brian Murray is in favour of independence (sic)
Eunice Olumide recently launched her own fashion design business
Jim Osborneearly retirement six years ago
Michelle Rodgerfounder Tartan Cat Communications
Andrew Richardsonaccountancy practice in Elgin
Susan Robertsonwriter, editor and partner in a communication consultancy 
Neil Stephen: founding partner of Dualchas Architects
Philip Stewartowns Dundee-based Kangaroo Print and Advertising
Kenneth Wardrop: a freelance consultant
Charlie Watta semi-retired consultant
Dr Willie Wilsonruns a small chain of community pharmacies
Ekaterina Zelenkovaruns her own fledgling interpretation business

A few that fall into this category (no current company directorships that I can find) were slightly less straightforward

Chris Chirnsideworks in Merchant Services ... also runs business networking events with his company 6 Degrees Networking. All I could find was a Singapore registered LLP called "6 Degrees Networking"; its not clear if this may be the company referred to.

Andy LambBusiness Development Director with ECCS Group. This would appear to be two "East Coast Construction Services Ltd" Companies (SC192098, SC105462). Andy is not a Registered Director of either of them and both are small companies with no declared turnover or employee numbers

Dave McGrathManaging Director at Richard Irvin Sustainable Energy Limited. Dave is not a Registered Director of Richard Irvin Sustainable Energy Limited (SC396527), a business which is described as "one of the north east Scotland’s leading building services contractors operating across Scotland"

Douglas Norrisleads an Ayrshire based SME employing some 80 people in Scotland. This would appear to be a company called Datec Technologies Limited (SC199369) which is a subsidiary of IL International LLC a US business. Douglas is not a Registered Director.

Ben RogersDigital Lead at GFI Software.  GFI Software Limited (4126587) is a company registered in Middlesex. Ben is not a Registered Director

Thomas Scott: UK public speaking champion [...] alongside his father and his uncle, Thomas set up Communication Consultants to not only train but also develop and provide mentoring to their clients. Thomas's LinkedIn Profile described him as "Scottish Director at Communication Consultants"; I was able to find two registered companies: Communication Consultants Ltd (06562502) and Communication Consultants (UK) Ltd (03009748) registered in London and Lowestoft respectively. Thomas is not a Registered Director of either of them.


27 members: Directors of small Companies with no declared turnover or employee numbers2
Again let me clear: there's nothing wrong with small companies, their voice is important in this debate.  I'm merely trying to get a handle on the nature of the businesses represented. I list them all below so you can decide for yourselves. Wording in italics is taken verbatim from their published profiles. The companies listed are all of the active directorships I have been able to find; all are below the medium company size threshold that would require disclosure of turnover or employee numbers.  I have excluded non-trading and dissolved companies.

Bruce Alexander:  Roslin-based SME dedicated to the development of novel control methods for insect-related problems - Xeroshild Ltd (SC286434)

Kenny AndersonConstruction and property entrepreneur - Anderson construction (aberdeen) Ltd (SC148028), Anderson Buchan Properties Ltd (SC212818)

Richard Arkless: LED Warehouse Ltd (SC451237) - founded 05/12, no accounts filed

Frances Barron: The Handmade Cheesecake Company Ltd (SC458241), Burns Country Larder Ltd (SC428967), The Dessert Depot Ltd (SC238553)

Ian Blackford: pretends to be semi-retired from a high profile investment banking career, but he is actually an active non-exec director of a number of companies - First Seer Ltd (SC243805), Commsworld Holdings Ltd (SC190987) (See Ricky Nicol Entry below)

Ron Dickinson: Ron Dickinson Associates Ltd (SC408405) - business consultancy

Fraser Duffground engineering and environmental consultancy - Terrenus Group Ltd (SC372563)

David Dwyer:  low-cost websites to businesses - Inspire IT Services Ltd (SC346614)

Eric Flannigan: Flannigan Consulting Ltd (SC478037) - founded 05/14, no accounts filed

Paul Fletchermarketeer and senior management consultant -  Enabling Innovation Ltd (SC467138), Kelvin Consulting Ltd (SC462301)

Martin Jackruns an event management company - Think Different Events Ltd (SC366035)

Joe Lafferty: Leadership & Team Coach - Lifetree (Scotland) Ltd (SC266149), Dundee Contemporary Arts Ltd (SC175926)

Paula LivingstoneOwner and founder of Rustyice Solutions and Apogee Internet - Apogee Internet Ltd (SC414097) is Non Trading; Rustyice Solutions Ltd (SC396764) is in Dissolution; only actively trading company Paula is a Director of is The Irvine Valley Regeneration Partnership (SC196845)

Andy Lythgoeformed his own consultancy in 2005 -  Lythgoe Property Consultancy Limited (SC295175), Craig Health Economics Consultancy Ltd (SC364446), Ancaster Court Ltd (SC173743)

Donald MacLean:  Scottish utility consultancy - Business Cost Consultants Ltd (SC294893)

Jamie RaeEntrepreneur Jamie Rae is founder of award-winning international recycling business REDEEM plc. Jamie exited REDEEM in Jan 2011 and currently has four active small company directorships: Hair by Andersons ltd (SC478097), Go Rental Property ltd (SC445426), Nugensis ltd (SC389487) - an IT consultancy, Spirit Aid Limited (SC214111) - a charity.

Gary H Sutherlandfounder and Managing Director of two Glasgow based businesses; EmployEasily HR Services Limited, an Employment Law & HR Consultancy, and Glasgow Business Hub Limited, providers of modern, flexible meeting room spaces for hire  -  Employeasily HR Services Ltd (SC352618), Business Boost (Scotland) Ltd (SC471120), Stirling District Citizens Advice Bureau Ltd (SC126241), Glasgow Business Hub Ltd (SC422285)

Peter Symeruns a small group of adventure travel and activity companies; three located in Scotland, one in Morocco and one in Spain. Peter has three active directorships; Liquid Life events ltd (SC269499), Perthshire Paintball ltd (SC268606), Splash White Water Rafting llp (SO302468) - across all of these the only declared figure is £300k turnover for Splash White Water Rafting, no employee figures are declared

Iain Taylorhas run ‘e-corporate’ which aims to provide legal services for the 21st century. E-Corporate Ltd (SC304621) is non-Trading; Iain is a Director of one Trading company Kircaldy Analytics Ltd (SC462702)

Malcolm Wadia: Plysim Ltd (SC412936) - engineering consultancy

Gerry WallaceManaging Director -  GEM Lift Services Ltd (SC109290) - a Scottish regional business

Sara Jane Walls: an entrepreneur running two Glasgow businesses - The Yoga & Pilates Place Ltd (SC470684), The Residence Glasgow Ltd (SC402766)

One of the BfS members in this category deserves special mention

David Morrison:  ... for the last 20 years has managed a group of companies specialising in commercial property development and investment.  [...] David has always seen Scottish independence as a long overdue correction of three hundred years of exploitation by a Westminster government and has always been enraged at the supercilious, lying nonsense of successive governments, be they Conservative or Labour, that we are “too poor, too wee and too stupid” to be able to handle our own destiny. [...] being a hard nosed businessman, he knows the signs of a dying business and GB plc is certainly that.  Any sound businessman will tell you that if a part of a group is in terminal decline, disassociate yourself from it and concentrate on the profitable part;  so it is with Scotland.  - David is a Director of the following Small Companies: Maybeg ltd (SC470882), Begford ltd (SC470880), Broxburn Properties ltd (SC199377), Tayforth llp (SC303710), Kinburn (123) llp (SC302287), Sangobeg Developments ltd (SC156804), Tayforth Property Developments ltd (SC154787),
Sangobeg Investments ltd. (SC126408).  He is also a director of 12 other dissolved companies.

Also in this category are some of the Directors of Business for Scotland Limited itself

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp:  Gordon has worked for major blue chip companies in sales and marketing roles - aside from Business for Scotland Ltd, he has one current directorship, Intelligise Ltd (SC365240) - "management consulting activities" with net assets of £898.  The other two companies he is a director of  are both dissolved  - Creative Learning Action ltd (SC210189), Icosmart ltd (SC212158)). Gordon was a (failed) SNP local council candidate for Hyndland; nothing wrong with that, but he doesn't mention it on his profile. Gordon appears to be Business for Scotland's main "go to guy" on economic issues.

Ian McDougallmanaging director of McDougall Johnstone, a corporate finance and accounting firm. Aside from Business for Scotland Ltd, he has one current directorship, McDougall Johnstone ltd (SC333890) - below audit threshold size and <£41k net assets.

Michelle Thomson23 years of working in the financial services sector, before starting her own business in building up a portfolio of buy to let and corporate rental properties accessible through her her trading company: Your Property Shop. We have already seen from our Twitter exchanges that as MD of Business for Scotland Michelle is not a great fan of answering direct questions.  Aside from Business for Scotland Ltd, Michelle has one active directorship: Your Property Shop Ltd (SC451292) - founded 05/13 and yet to file any accounts. She is also a Director of Edinburgh Global Property Investments ltd (SC342421) which ceased trading in 2011 and was dissolved in 2013; the balance sheet suggests this business never traded materially. She is also a Director of Michelle R Thomson Consulting ltd (SC377063) which is non-trading.

Ivan Paul McKeeInternational businessman Ivan has worked in manufacturing for 30 years, mostly for large corporate organisations, until 8 years ago when he launched his own manufacturing consultancy and turnaround company. Ivan holds two directorships in companies registered in Scotland: EISM Properties ltd (SC464456) - incorporated 11/13, no accounts filed, Keyshift ltd (SC286042) - management consultancy activities, exempt from audit with no declared turnover or employee figures.  Ivan is also a Director of 3 companies registered in England:
  • Excel Assemblies ltd (8388168) and it's subsidiary Excel (Electronic) Assemblies ltd (7046739) in Manchester - incorporated 02/13, no accounts filed
  • Greenfold Systems ltd (7765371) - registered in Manchester but apparently based in Dunfermline. Exempt from audit, no declared turnover or employee numbers.  As recently reported in the Herald "The company developed out of the remnants of the former Simclar manufacturing business expects to create 65 jobs after winning £400,000 official support.  Greenfold Systems was awarded Regional Selective Assistance by Scottish Enterprise in the latest round of the funding scheme. The agency made the award after assessing ambitious expansion plans drawn up by Dunfermline-based Greenfold following a successful first 18 months in business"
  
Again: the only Registered Directorships I have been able to find for any these BfS Members above are companies that do not exceed the Small Business threshold and the preponderance of consultancies, property companies and service companies you've never heard of leads me to conclude that none are involved in material goods trade with rUK and I doubt any would be involved in the employment of any of the estimated  962,000 Scottish jobs linked to trade with rUK.


7 members: Directors of Limited Companies greater than Small Company size.

Ken Cairnduff[founded] Internacionale and Au Naturale which by the time he sold it in 2006 had more than 150 stores and 2,500 employees. Following this he invested in commercial property development with mixed success.  Ken has two active directorships of trading companies; Kelvinside Academy War Memorial Trust (SC011734) - a co-educational day school with £5.5m turnover and 84 employees.  He is also a director of Cairnduff Developments ltd (below thresholed to declare turnover or employee numbers).  In addition he is a director of

  • Four Companies in Administration: Cairnduff Developments Holdings ltd (SC392740), Cairnduff Developments Ayr ltd (SC333945), Cairnduff Developments Longbenton ltd (SC310145), Cairnduff Development Forfar ltd (SC309715)
  • Three Companies in Liquidation: Razzle Dazzle ltd (SC414405), Townhouse Retail ltd (SC371544), Fun for 2 ltd (SC299265)
  • One Company with Accounts Too Old: Razzle Dazzle (Scotland) ltd (NF003244)

Leslie Andrew Meiklefounder of the largest property preservation company of its type in Scotland. Wise Property Care (SC168153) appears to serve Scotland exclusively (see website) - it has a turnover of £5.6m but is exempt from audit and does not declare any employee figures.  Aside from his Directorship of Business for Scotland Ltd, he holds one other small company Directorship: The Property Care Association (5596488) which is also exempt from audit.

Ricky NicolCEO and founder of Scotland’s largest indigenous telecoms company, Commsworld. Ricky is a one of 7 Directors of Commsworld Holdings ltd (SC190987) and subisdiaries Commsworld Ltd (SC150343) and Fluency Commuications Ltd (SC390685).  Commsworld is "engaged in the sale, installation and project management of complete voice and data solutions for the business community" and reports an £8.7m turnover ... but qualifies as a Small Company so must employ less than 50 people.  The website states "Headquartered in Edinburgh, and with offices in Glasgow and Aberdeen" so would appear to focus on the domestic Scottish market; staff salaries are reported in the accounts at £332k so I'm guessing 10 - 15 staff outside of the Directors?

David Cairns: David is executive chairman of a growing £8m turnover software company, now headquartered in Stirling since he relocated it from Newcastle.  David Cairns of Finavon holds directorships of ScotlandIS (SC209844)  - the Trade Body for Scotland's ICT Industry and PrismTech Group Ltd (SC338033) and its subsidiary Prismtech Ltd (2664365).   Prsimtech's latest reported turnover was actually £6.6m, down from £7.6m the previous year; the "growing £8m turnover" quoted in David's profile is presumably more recent figures not yet filed at Companies House. Prismtech employs 75 Staff.   So this is exciting: have we found a BfS member involved in a business with a material number of employees that might trade with rUK!  No, we haven't; as you can see below the total UK (inc Scotland) turnover of Prismtech is £442k
   
Since I published this post Keith Steele the CEO of Prismtech (and a committed NO voter) has been in touch.  He would like it to be known that David’s and his views are their own and do not represent those of the business.  He also confirms that my assumption about published revenue numbers is correct and the business is once again enjoying healthy growth with revenues well above £9m to be reported in their next published accounts


Sandy Adam. Alexander William Adam is founder and major shareholder of Springfield Properties Plc, a £47m turnover business with 233 employees.  As is clear from their accounts, they are an exclusively Scottish property developer who work closely with Housing Associations providing Social Housing
  

Tony Banks...self-made millionaire businessman ... the epithet ‘one of Scotland’s top entrepreneurs’ does not sit comfortably on his shoulders. “The truth is there are no airs and graces about me,” he says. Anthony Roiall Banks is founder and owner of Balhousie Care Group - Scotland's largest privately owned provider of care in nursing homes, residential care homes and advanced specialist care centres. Balhousie Holdings Ltd has a turnover of £22.1m and 879 employees. In addition to the four subsidiaries which are consolidated into Balhousie Holdings Ltd, Tony holds five other Directorships of trading companies, all below the threshold requiring declaration of turnover or employee numbers: Arb Properties Scotland llp (SC303301), Clepington Road llp (SC303253), Tic (Angus) ltd (SC266895), Milnbank ltd (SC257927), The Entrepreneurial Exchange ltd (SC160976).

Since I first published this post I was directed to Tony Banks' book "Storming the Falklands: My War and After".  The extract below (page 153 of the e-book version) I include without comment:




There's One Director of Business for Scotland Ltd Left, not featured as a Member Profile

Jim Mather: Jim is a Director of Business for Scotland but does not appear in the member profiles and appears to have no other company directorships. To quote his Wikipedia entry he is: "a Scottish politician, former Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism and until the 2011 election, the Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament for Argyll and Bute. He is credited with making the economic case for Scottish Independence, having taken the argument to the media, boardrooms and committee rooms across Scotland between 2001 and 2007".

So there you go.

To summarise the Business for Scotland Members
  • 30 "business professionals"
  • 28 people who have Small Company directorships; businesses with no declared turnover or employee figures.  These are predominantly consultancies, property companies and service companies; I can't identify any material trading links with rUK and none can be considered major employers
  • 6 People who have or have had larger scale business experience
    •  A one-time retail entrepreneur who's only material company directorship now is of a Scottish co-ed school
    • The founder of a £5.6m turnover domestic Scottish property preservation company (with no declared employee figures)
    • The founder of an £8.7m voice and data solutions company  focused on the domestic Scottish market (with no declared employee figures)
    • A Director of a £6.6m turnover software business that employs 75 staff but has only £443k turnover in the UK (including Scotland)  
    • The founder of an (exclusively Scottish) property development company with a turnover of £47m and 233 employees
    • The founder of an (exclusively Scottish) care home group with £22.1m turnover and 879 employees

I've detailed my bona fides on this blog.  I do not consider my business interests to be particularly special and it's only fair that I apply the same test to me (it will save others some work -- I know how tedious this research can be); My current active Directorships are;
  • M8 Group Limited (SC242849) and its subsidiaries Petplanet.co.uk Ltd (SC197870), Greenfngers Trading Ltd (SC231986): Turnover £15.2m, 72 employees.  I have shared elsewhere that 90% of that turnover is to rUK.
  • Endura Ltd (SC128821): Turnover £17.9m, 88 employees. Sales to rUK are an extremely significant proportion of that turnover

I think I have shown in this post that even the two businesses I am involved in are larger contributors to the trade and employment in Scotland that is dependent on rUK trading links than the entirety of the declared BfS membership.  As will become apparent in the debate soon; there are a lot of businesses that share the same perspective as I do: a No vote will protect employment in Scotland by ensuring our seamless trading links with rUK are maintained.

If you want to know more about why I believe that, please read > Independence & Scotland's Trade with rUK

In contrast to the rather skewed perspective offered by Business for Scotland, there is now an organisation called Working for Scotland; they adopt a "No" stance and have compiled a list of testimonials from a broader and rather more representative cross-section of Scottish Businesses, Business People and Trade Unions > What Scottish Businesses Think About Independence (and yes, I've added my voice to that list).  I've done a quick check and even excluding the banks the businesses quoted there employ over 20,000 people in Scotland and - of course - are involved in significant rUK trade.

Furthermore the Federation of Small Businesses has published a detailed survey of almost 1,800 small Scottish Businesses in which they observe (note the question was not directly asked):
  • "In the comments section of this question, 134 members volunteered that they would consider or would definitely be relocating their business outside of an independent Scotland, while a further 51 stated that they would look to close, downsize, sell, or retire early. This totals 185 respondents (10%) who would consider withdrawing their business from the Scottish economy"
Bibby Financial Services (presaging a Report due to be published in August) have said

  • "Over a quarter (26 per cent) of Scottish small and medium-sized businesses fear they will lose business if there is a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum and some 70 per cent have rejected the idea that independence would be a positive step for the nation."
Finally a recent Treasury report has suggested 1 in 10 Scottish jobs are at risk

You be the judge: it strikes me that the two sources above offer a rather more meaningful insight into the views of Scottish Businesses (and the impact on Scottish jobs) than "Business for Scotland"

**********

1. Professor Brian Ashcroft recently published analysis which estimates that 962,000  Scottish jobs depend on links to the rest of the UK  (Scottish Jobs and the UK) .  ONS stats show total Scottish employment (public and private sector) in March 2014 of 2.6m (ONS stats). So we can say 37% of jobs in Scotland depend on links to the rest of the UK.

2. To qualify as a small company a per the Company Act a group of companies must meet at least two of the following conditions

  1. Aggregate turnover must be £6.5 million net (or £7.8 million gross) or less
  2. The aggregate balance sheet total must be £3.26 million net (or £3.9 million gross) or less
  3. The aggregate average number of employees must be 50 or fewer
3. Business for Scotland "Members" with no Company Directorships






49 comments:

rogerlwhite said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rogerlwhite said...

I also had looked at the BfS website and wondered who and how many they were. There are so few mentioned on the site I assumed they had other members who chose to remain anonymous for one reason or another. Maybe not. The other claim they make is to be a 'business/economic policy think tank.' Now I'm as sceptical as the next person about many 'think tanks' but I can see absolutely no evidence, capacity or budget that would justify this claim. It would be interesting to see any research or policy papers they had produced and who their clients were.

fatshez said...

Apropos BfS membership and whether or not it is open or in any way extensive, I find Michelle Thomson's first response interesting. Surely a group formed of and representing businesses and business people would be interested in, first of all, capturing your ( ie any qualifying person's) membership (thus expanding their own base and credentials, not to mention what ever financial levy they extract from members). Instead she invites you to an open meeting to hear the view of their directors and founding members.

I say that with the experience of working in a firm of solicitors that includes the secretary of a body representing solicitors and their interests; membership is everything, if you wish to actually reflect and promote the interests and values of the industry you purport to represent.

Tom Hogg said...

I commend Kevin for his hard work in setting all of this down in print but I wonder if it comes as any great surprise to anybody, in particular those involved with Business for Scotland and the commissioning editors at the media outlets that are inviting them to comment.

I'm a member of Business for Scotland but I don't represent that organisation in any way and any comments that I am making here are personal.

I've never been involved in politics in my life, apart from a brief dalliance with the Student Representative Council many years ago. The current campaign has been an eye opener for me in so many ways, but most notably the fact that our lives are run by politicians and yet so many of the public are disinterested in the political process. That's what makes it relatively easy for a small group of well organised and motivated people to appear to punch above their weight in terms of media coverage and representation. The fact that the "establishment" has found it hard to compete with such a small group on some occasions (see John Boyle v Ivan McKee on Sky TV for an example) must be a concern to those who hold an opposing view to mine.

Regardless of the outcome of September's vote, there's a lesson here for everyone. If you want your voice heard and your views represented, then you need to do something about it. I greatly admire those that are doing so on both sides of the debate and will defend anyone who puts across a reasoned argument for the status quo despite it being a contrary view to mine.

Finally, I hope that Kevin will indulge me in a spot of "whitabootery". I think it's a bit rich to moan about a small group of self funded pro-Yes campaigners being unrepresentative, when we have the Vote No Borders campaign spending hundreds of thousands of pounds appearing from nowhere and getting wall to wall BBC coverage on its launch day. That looks to be the establishment and money in its full pomp and it's unhealthy for democracy regardless of your views on the referendum.

I hope that after a Yes vote you will get involved Kevin, and make sure that we can have the best possible outcome for business in the negotiations between September and 2016.

Anonymous said...

There are many business owners who follow BFS and want independence - sme or corporate. The reason why they are not members is so they can't be targeted unfairly due to their views.

Anonymous said...

Well done on digging into the background of this group. Business for Scotland is clearly a sham in that it purports to represent itslef as much greater than the sum of its parts. Its a shame mainstream journalists havent been more assiduous in asking some critical questions about this SNP shell group.

fatshez said...

Self funded? You'll have evidence to support that statement?

Alistair Gray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alistair Gray said...

Well said Tom Hogg below.

Like Tom, I am a member of BfS, although like Tom it is my own views I give here.

Kevin I think you are setting up a straw man.

BfS is a group of 1,500 plus individuals (the number is easily found on their web site) who have an interest in Scottish business and who believe that Scottish business would be better served by an independent Scotland.

One joins by signing the declaration on the web site. If one donates £100 one becomes a director and part-owner.

There is no requirement that members own or run a business, and no claim that they do so.

So far as I know, BfS has never claimed to represent anyone other than these 1,500 plus signatories.

The work of BfS consists of research and articles published through their web site, speaking at town-hall meetings, and media interventions.

BfS is prominent in the media because economics plays a large part in the media debate, and because BfS spokespeople are good media performers - informed, articulate and courteous.

I think BfS is a good grassroots organisation, and a valuable contributor to the debate on independence.

Anonymous said...

Your research is poorly done. You highlighted one person who took your interest namely, Brian Murray.

A quick google search would reveal his linkedin profile, which would suggest that he's actually rather well qualified.

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/brianmurray

fatshez said...

For a "self funded" "grassroots" movement none posting here as, even when directly challenged, been able to demonstrate where BfS funding comes from. We see references to a voluntary payment of £100 and to BfS's own unsubstantiated membership list. Taken at face value this gives a limit of £150k. Any advance on that? Anyone want to produce anything that might dispel the notion that BfS are a SNP front channelling SNP denotations from the usual, limited sources?

Alistair Gray said...

@fatshez "Anyone want to produce anything that might dispel the notion that BfS are a SNP front channelling SNP denotations from the usual, limited sources?"

If you seriously think the multi-headed grassroots independence movement from the Reid Foundation through Radical Independence to Grannies-for-Indy is a devious SNP front then you are seriously underestimating the challenge the Union faces.

fatshez said...

For reasons that are explained very clearly in the blog (and mainly to do with the level of media exposure the group gets) I'm asking very specifically about BfS. Not any of the other groups you named. Do you have anything to support tge comments made under this blog and specifically to confirm that BfS is self funding and run on the structure suggested above?

Alistair Gray said...

@fatshez "Do you have anything to support tge comments made under this blog and specifically to confirm that BfS is self funding and run on the structure suggested above?"

My comments gave information publicly available on the BfS website and in the media. If you require more information than that then you should contact BfS directly.

Kevin Hague said...

Ref Brian Murray.

I didn't highlight one person; I reviewed every one of the members profile and so he is included. I gave him one line as I couldn't find anything about him based on the published profile . I link to it and it gives no hint of company directorships which is quite clearly what I am looking at. His profile is in fact spectacularly vague. Maybe you can help me with his company directorships as his is a common name. I apologise if you feel I have not been thorough enough for you; I've put all my research here exactly so that I can be corrected if I've missed anything. I'm not sure what further openness and rigour you expect? Read his profile again; it doesn't give many clues does it? Suggesting I "singled him out" is ridiculous -- point me to his company Directorships and I will add them.

fatshez said...

I have done, several times, no answer. I'm left with the reasonable conclusion BfS are funded by SNP and are simply a front.

Tom Hogg said...

@fatshez I honestly don't know if BFS is an SNP funded front organisation. From where I stand in terms of my involvement, it doesn't look or feel like it.

I have paid £120 for each of two years to be a member of the co-operative and have also part paid for some venue hire and some teas and coffees. I've hosted a single meeting FOC in my own office.

I'd not be surprised if some of the better off members of the organisation have done similar things on a more expansive basis relating to resources and manpower.

Now that we are in the regulated period the spending position will become clear after the referendum when the Electoral Commission publish their returns. My expectation is that you will find no SNP money in BFS.

But what do I know? I'm just a small businessman willing to use his own name and give an honest opinion. Maybe I've been duped. and I'll later regret not heeding the advice of an anonymous commentator on a public blog.

Alistair Gray said...

@fatshez "I have done, several times, no answer. I'm left with the reasonable conclusion BfS are funded by SNP and are simply a front."

OK you got me. BfS is run by the SNP, and the SNP is run by SMERSH, and this conversation is taking place in the Matrix.

On the plus side, at least I comment under my real name ...

fatshez said...

Chris Sheridan, details available through profile and in twitter.

Where do you think BfS get their money?

fatshez said...

Chris Sheridan, details available on twitter.

You haven't thought to question the funding of this group? Have you seen this much talked about membership list extending to 1500 members?

fatshez said...

As a solicitor I'm a member of several professional bodies, both representative and disciplinary. I can't imagine contributing funds to these bodies without absolute transparency about their accounts.

Alistair Gray said...

@fatshez "Where do you think BfS get their money?"

Hi Chris

I think they're powered by enthusiasm not money.

I don't think they have any money to speak of. Their activity is typical of a grassroots, shoestring campaign group - social media, town hall meetings, media interviews. None of this costs much. They have a writer, Michael Gray, who may or may not be paid a bit. Their spokespeople I assume are unpaid.

They want to do some videos that need a bit of cash, and have issued a crowd-funding appeal for £30k, of which £12k has been raised. It's on the web site.

You're looking for a money trail, and there is no trail, because there is no money.

As for the membership list, if they say it's 1,500 then it is. I signed up, and I know quite a few others who did. Do you think there aren't 1,500 people in Scotland willing to support them, when all around you there is a huge popular push for independence?

I really can't understand what all this is about. You and Kevin seem to think you have uncovered some scandal, when you're just flogging a rock.

fatshez said...

Have you contributed? If so, have you seen their accounts? If not, have you asked? Do you expect to see uptodate accounts at any forthcoming AGM?

Alistair Gray said...

@fatshez "Have you contributed? If so, have you seen their accounts? If not, have you asked? Do you expect to see uptodate accounts at any forthcoming AGM?"

Yes I have contributed. No I have not seen their accounts. And I have no interest in an AGM.

It's not a professional association. I have no long-term relationship with them. It's a campaign group. It'll be gone in October. My exposure to them is £100 to join and £10 for their crowd-funding appeal.

I like the people I have spoken to. I think their research is good, and their media performances have been excellent, so I have no problem with the way they spend the money.

I could ask to see their accounts and their membership list, but I have better things to do and so have they.

On which point Chris I will bid you good night, because there really is no issue here to discuss.

fatshez said...

So on the open platform of a blog widely publicised on twitter today no one from BfS can explain where they get their funding or claim to have access to either the much trumpeted membership list or a set of accounts?

Alistair Gray said...

Jeezo Chris when you're in a hole stop digging!

The blog post is wrong. It claims that BfS membership can be "fairly summarised" as 64 individuals. It fails to mention the figure of 1,500, easily accessible on the BfS web site. And that figure of 64 does not include me or Tom Hogg (commenting here) or the others I know have joined. If I know a few who have joined you can be quite sure many, many more have joined that I don't know.

You have no reason for disputing BfS' stated membership figure, and no reason for thinking there is any hidden agenda behind BfS' funding.

Kevin needs to fix his blog post, and you should stop making accusations you can't motivate or substantiate.

fatshez said...

Have you asked to see the membership list? Why isn't it published? A healthy membership would go along way to addressing the credibility gap highlighted in the blog. Have you seen accounts or asked to see accounts? Right now all you're doing is pointing out you disagree with the (in the case of the blog itself) well researched and reasoned points made, but have no further research or reasoning to add.

Kevin Hague said...

To answer some of the points above;
1. There might have been 1500 online registrations to the pledge .. I've heard 2000 quoted .. that's great but doesn't tell us anything about who they are and is an unverified claim
2. If we do accept that number, all we know is it online "sign-ups" without any screening for business credibility; my dog has "signed up" -- so I presume she is included in the figures being quoted here to argue that "Business for Scotland" has more credibility than I give it credit for
3. I have been very clear on my methodology and shared the entire workings -- as BfS provide nothing more to give actual business credibility than the featured testimonials its reasonable for me to analyse those and conclude as I do
4. I am not arguing that I've uncovered some spectacular scam; I am merely making sure that the public statements made by "Business for Scotland" are read in an appropriate context and - which is where I came in - whatever the group represents it does *not* represent Scottish Business in any meaningful sense.

I don't think I need to *correct* anything about the overall message of the blog: I will continue to make any corrections to fact if I have misrepresented any of the "featured members" business interests

Alistair Gray said...

Hi Kevin

I hear what you say, but it cannot be right to publish a blog post which claims that BfS membership can be "fairly represented" as 64, and just not mention that their own website states that over 1,500 have signed their pledge. In my opinion you really need to change your post to acknowledge that these 64 are a (known) subset of a much larger (albeit unknown) whole.

BfS have nearly 2k members, 13k Twitter followers, and YouTube plays up to 12 or 13k. They speak to packed town halls, and are regularly invited onto TV and radio. They are a genuinely popular outfit, not some astroturf front.

Beyond that I have no quarrel with the content of your post. I'm just not sure why you think anyone would be surprised at its content. I don't think BfS has ever claimed to represent Scottish Business as a whole, as opposed to the 1,500 signatories who are I am quite sure of all shapes and sizes, including the odd dog.

You have done good work on the economic risks associated with independence. I like that work better than this current post: speak to the message, don't shoot the messenger.

Kevin Hague said...

I do say "identified members" that's all I can work with ... And "are regularly invited onto TV and radio" is exactly what bugs me. Why are they?

Kevin Hague said...

Sorry Alistair I meant to say "thank you" for comment ref economic analysis

Alistair White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alistair White said...

I'm a member of BfS and employ (part time) myself. I see Yes! as a fantastic opportunity for developing the economy in Scotland to benefit those primarily who choose to live and work here. I get the feeling from your comments that this "smallness" makes my contribution or support of BfS less important. You seem to be making the point "how many employees do you represent?" Why is that important? Surely each individual has one vote so this is a mute point you seek to make. It is a fools errand to push for representation of "big business" in this debate, they are clearly allowed to contribute but to question the relevance or high profile nature of BfS as an issue is to miss the point. We are individuals, motivated by this opportunity to make change happen, we are not sitting back and waiting for the organisation you would prefer to see doing this for us. That, in my view is the difference, we as an organised group are being active and the high profile nature is a result of this effective organisation. As far as the SNP is concerned, why is that relevant? In the context of the debate across the media I would hope and ask you to dedicate as much time and attention to the No camp and just exactly who are they being supported by. I would compliment you on your efforts; a very instructive piece and well laid out. It would be amplified in effect if you had "the other side" also put under the spot light - good luck with that and I look forward to your talents and passion being put behind an independent Scotland after a Yes!

Anonymous said...

Good work

I always figured that BfS was an snp front dressed up to look far more significant than it actually is but i didn't have the inclination to go digging so well done.

Keep it up, the no vote is in the bag but it would be nice to keep yes below 25%.

Rob Murray Brown said...

Very interesting and confirms my dealings with Michelle and the other guy who runs it. Way back last year I was discussing independence with them on the site forum and was removed once the argument started to go aginst them.

One apsect that I do object to is that they post articles written for them and promote them as ''an independent financial advisor tells us why he's voting yes'' anbd it turns out the guy is one of the leads for the Third Sector for YEs campaign. Thats not very honest.

I see that their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which ends this week, has been a disaster - only 168 donars. That really says it all. Why any media operation would want to take soundings from the people running it is beyond me - they are not exactly bright or even succesful.

Callum said...

If 95% funded via 433 individual donors with 3 days to go is a 'disaster' then can you let me know how to go about running a successful crowd funding campaign?

I think the blog post is successful in its stated purpose of showing that business for Scotland is not a wholly representative organisation although lets be fair - is the CBI? Although BfS have gained significant airtime I have never seen them portrayed as anything other than a yes supporting group of business individuals which it is hard to argue against.

Surely it is a good thing that the debate is balanced with an alternative narrative to the (not unfounded) mantra of business risks under independence which highlights that they're might indeed be specific opportunities associated with a Yes vote as well.

As for fatshez's ludicrous conspiracy theories about their being an SNP front the less said the better. What sort of money are you suggesting they've actually spent? As has already been pointed out their voluntary membership fee would appear to be more than enough to cover the nominal costs of maintaining a website (and potentially funding a writer), running town hall meetings and making a few youtube videos.

Anonymous said...

BfS is not funded by or linked to any political party; the members I have met (over a 6 month period) have never discussed political allegiances but have spoken of their desire to have a Normal country. A country which governs its own affairs. Economically there is no issue to address. Scotland is being held back because of its resources & anyone who suggests otherwise is looking through an obscured Unionist/Daily Mail lens. JT.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that since there is no shortage of different yes grass roots groups, the vast majority of bfs members are or see themselves as business people. Or it could be that l should have declared my interest and targeted my donations to "Granny's for Yes". Im sure that, as myself, many would like to maintain a degree of anominity, considering the possible negative impact on trade from individuals and other businesses who do not hold the same beliefs. I have suppliers and clients on both sides of the border and the debate. I also have staff who no doubt will vote differently from myself and it would not be right to declare my beliefs in the name of my company. You seem to have put alot of energy into your research and I commend you for your dedication. But you don't have the information you would require to have a conclusion. The commitment of bfs, the whatever for Yes, the whoever for indy, the thousands of campaigners who chap doors are the ones who will be able to look back and feel a part of something good. The gate is open.

Allen Brook said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan S said...

I'm a BFS member but as my business is structured as sole trader it wont be listed in companies house.

Maybe you should have considered that for part of your "research".

Kevin Hague said...

In reply to Alan S:
Alan I am aware of that issue and thought I made it very clear in my text but let me repeat the point >

I was trying to assess whether the BfS membership includes any businesses with a significant number of employees and material trade with rUK. I'd asked the question directly and as you can see was not answered so I did the research myself.

I go to great pains to make it clear that I am not casting any aspersions on the people who may have small companies or who are sole traders like yourself - and recognise you have an entirely valid view on the independence referendum question. I'm merely pointing out that a very significant business constituency is not represented *at all* by BfS - and it is that very constituency that is concerned about the Scottish employment implications of a Yes vote.

Is all.

Scooters said...

let's get one thing straight, BfS members. You comment here that you are a fledgling organisation of business people who believe in the YES campaign. But that isn't what you portray yourselves as nationally is it?
By using sophisticated social media marketing techniques you have catapaulted yourselves to the 'go to' body representing scottish Business in the Yes camapign.
So don't complain when the spot light and magnifying glass is turned on you. You cannot have your cake and eat it.

Amy said...

This is a fantastic article - and confirms what I have thought all along. I was just beginning to research some of the companies and came across your blog - especially relevant with the article in the paper today. Well done and thanks for the work put into this. I have shared it and will refer to it again.

Anonymous said...

Richard Arkless being one of the "new" 56 MP's ?

Doesn't reply to "difficult" Facebook questions (any facebook questions ) but loves to write glowing episodes of SNP daiy life on his page, most other questions to him just get deleted , much easier than actually trying to answer them.

Says he gave up from being a Business lawyer so he could start up an online LED company...can't see that being much of a huge business concern really.

Anonymous said...


So what do we have going on here today ?
Another Slo-mo road accident amongst the Business for Scotland fraternity ?
(Among them of course SNP MP's who Pete Wishart SNP MP says don't have second Jobs.)

Why hurriedly resign your Directorship if you have nothing to hide ?
Hopefully the authorities here look deep into Richard Arkless's business practices... who knows what they might dig up.

From todays Express
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/612804/Scotland-company-SNP-MP-Trading-standards

Have another Gin or two tonight Kevin.

Anonymous said...


Another casualty among Scotland for Business members ?

http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/local/angus-the-mearns/secret-millionaire-tony-banks-on-domestic-assault-charge-1.918931

Any chance of updating all the new known information on members that is now available perhaps so it can be seen when reading the main article ? We know at least two of them later became SNP MP's too, one already fallen from grace.

Jock Tamsons Bairn said...

Whats the chances that the Ian Blackford mentioned here is also the same one that is now an SNP MP now too ? (alongside Thompson and Arkless)

Also i see an Ivan McKee on this list and that name is also going to stand as an MSP at Holyrood in May http://www.snp.org/ivan_mckee (Depite being caught up in the Michelle Thompson issue)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you might want to update the McIntyre Kemp data ?
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15105527.Business_for_Scotland_boss_admits_losing_money_on_his_business/?ref=twtrec

Anonymous said...

I have just been blocked by BfS on facebook...I consider that a success...They are an SNP shill company headed by Aberdeen lawyer and staunch SNP supporter Rob Aberdein...I have obviously hit a nerve with my posts.I could post using another facebook profile but will just watch .How petty for a business (ha ha) to block someone.