POLITICS

Scottish Independence Is An 'Opportunity' For Scotland's Banks, Says Ex-RBS Boss

04/08/2014 12:01 BST | Updated 04/08/2014 12:59 BST
David Cheskin/PA Archive
A posed photo of an Euro, a Royal Bank of Scotland and a Bank of England note being pulled from a Saltire purse in Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said today that he was ready to meet Prime Minister David Cameron "in Edinburgh, in London or wherever" to discuss the way forward for a referendum on independence.

Pro-union campaigners have been accused of "scaremongering" about the impact of independence on Scotland's banking sector, with a former Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) boss insisting this would be "an opportunity not a threat".

Sir George Mathewson, a former RBS chief executive and chairman, argued that financial services in Scotland had been "neglected by the Westminster government and its London-centric policy".

He also claimed that banks such as RBS and Lloyds could "scarcely be described as Scottish banks", adding that if there was a Yes vote in next month's referendum it should be the rest of the UK government that should be primarily responsible for dealing with the situation.

Sir George also gave his backing to Scottish Government plans for a currency union with the rest of the UK to be established if there is a Yes vote on September 18, allowing an independent Scotland to continue to use the pound.

These proposals have already been dismissed by the three main Westminster parties and last week First Minister Alex Salmond was accused of a ''huge deception'' over his plan.

Sir Martin Jacomb, the former chairman of Prudential, and Sir Andrew Large, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, said that a currency union is ''not compatible with Scotland being politically independent and is therefore not on offer''.

Business leaders who oppose Scottish independence

But in a piece in the Financial Times, Sir George said those who argued against a currency union "ignore the interconnected nature of our financial systems".

He stated: "As the debate over Scottish independence enters its final stage, careful analysis is giving the lie to the unionists' scaremongering about the consequences of independence. For Scotland's financial sector, this is an opportunity, not a threat."

Sir George continued: "It is nonsense to argue that Scotland's banking sector would make independence impossible to achieve.

"Banks such as RBS and Lloyds Banking Group have strong Scottish connections but they can scarcely be described as Scottish banks.

"In reality they are run from London, and that is where they are regulated. The customers, assets and ownership are global, even if the holding company happens to be registered in Edinburgh.

"The location of a brass plate bearing the name of a bank may determine where the institution formally resides. But it does not tell you which government is primarily responsible for overseeing the bank or for limiting the damage if things go wrong.

"That depends principally on where the bank's economic assets are located - which is, after all, the place most at risk from contagion in the event of a banking crisis.

"In the case of RBS and Lloyds, which have substantial operations throughout the UK, the answer is clear. The UK Government already owns significant chunks of both institutions; 80%, in the case of RBS."

He argued that "independence will bring new opportunities for Scotland's financial sector - which is one of the country's strengths, though it is neglected by the Westminster government and its London-centric policy".

Mathewson's message will be welcome news to first minister Alex Salmond, who was urged recently to reconsider his drive for an independent Scotland by a member of his own party.

As the SNP leads the charge for a yes vote in September's referendum, Alex Murray, a former Lord Provost of Perth for the SNP and member of the party for 53 years, wrote to Salmond to urge him to stop pushing for independence, saying the party is "not really too sure" how the country would operate if it were independent.

Murray previously pushed for independence but, in a letter to Dundee's Courier newspaper he said he had been "definitely a bit naive" and asked whether "we have the experience required to run a country".