By Lesley Riddoch
 
So LLoyds Banking Group, Barclays and Shell have joined RBS and Standard Life to warn that Scottish independence could destabilise business.
 
Lloyds annual report fears an independent Scotland might have a poorer credit rating than the rest of the UK so the cost of borrowing on international markets might rise.  A bit rich you might think, coming from a company whose disastrous management has meant massive borrowing from the domestic taxpayer – but let’s leave that to one side.

One can only presume that good news about iScotland’s possible triple A credit rating didn’t reach them before Lloyds went to press.  Credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s reported last week that an independent Scotland would “qualify for our highest economic assessment” after a thorough survey of the economy – including those dangerously changeable oil revenues — and the risk that some banks might leave.

The agency didn’t take that risk very seriously and observed that losing large, risky ventures might even help iScotland – though of course no government would welcome the loss of thousands of jobs however “volatile” the sector.

While he’s at it the chief executive of Lloyds Group, Antonio Horta-Osorio — who’s already based in London despite the bank’s Edinburgh HQ – could take a closer look at the list of most secure economies. 

The majority of countries rated triple A by Standard and Poors are small, social democracies like Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway or liberal-ish, market economies like Hong Kong, Singapore and Switzerland – all with populations of five to eight million people – or large federal nations like Germany, Canada and Australia with genuinely devolved governance.  That’s not to say an independent Scotland would be an automatic slam-dunk for triple A status.  But it would need mismanagement of RBS proportions to miss that open goal.

Nonetheless Shell also waded in.  Chief executive Ben van Beurden said, “We’d like to see Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom.  Given a choice, we want to know as accurately as possible what investment conditions will look like ten or 20 years from now.”

It might seem churlish to point out that for decades Shell preferred to see apartheid South Africa remain intact in the interests of business stability.  But once again, let’s put that aside.

The security-seeking Anglo-Dutch oil giant missed not one but two relevant and optimistic reports last week.  The first, by the Financial Times, concluded, “An independent Scotland could expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK.”  The second, by retired oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood concluded that an independent Scotland could start life with another mini oil boom.

Sir Ian’s report — commissioned by the UK Government – estimated there’s as much oil left in the North Sea as has already been extracted.  Sure it will be harder and more expensive to remove.  Certainly there is a good green case for leaving much if it in situ or extracting it slowly.  But there is no doubt Shell would be acting against the interests of shareholders by opting to quit Scottish operations over constitutional change alone.  Only changing world conditions or public opinion towards fossil fuels could make further extraction undesirable or unprofitable.

The calmest voice in yesterday’s melee was Barclays whose chief executive said last month “I can make it [constitutional change] work either way.”  Barclays report noted that Scottish independence was far from being the only political game-changer in town citing the EU referendum and aftermath, the possible exit of countries from the eurozone and a decline in residential prices in the UK, western Europe and South Africa as factors which might all affect the group’s risk profile.

That list of big changes – missing the sudden economic threat posed by President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – served as a useful reminder that big business lives in globally “interesting times” with few “safe havens” immune from democratic change.

Nonetheless, such an orchestrated roll-call of negativity from some of Scotland’s biggest employers and most powerful economic players is bound to be having an impact on smaller Scottish businesses – isn’t it?

Au contraire.  Despite this onslaught of top companies complaining about the disruption of the referendum and questioning the desirability of independence, business confidence amongst Scottish companies is at a record high.

The latest survey by ICAEW/Grant Thornton UK recorded a confidence index of +38 among Scottish firms for the start of 2014 compared to +28.5 in the previous quarter. The Scotsman reports Scotland’s score is slightly above the UK average of +37.2.
 
Well, well.  In the midst of this swirling independence-generated fog of uncertainty, the domestic business outlook seems to be sunny.  How can this be? 

The survey attributes Scotland’s “strong” performance to rising customer demand and the expectation of rising salaries.  But surely that too is strange.  Even in public sector-led Scotland, private business generally foots the wages bill.  So how can a rise produce sunny optimism amongst bosses?

Maybe they realise that what goes out by way of higher wages comes back by way of higher demand for goods and services?  Or maybe, just maybe, the whole process of rethinking Scotland’s future is invigorating for dynamic owners of smaller businesses with a long-standing commitment to Scotland?
 
Maybe, just maybe, business knows that the certainty the big boys apparently crave comes gey close to stagnation, rubber-stamping and an ultimately corrosive “good enough” approach in civic life and political decision-making.  Maybe a nation with a game-plan, a sense of purpose, destiny and some drive is a better bet for those who plan to invest their own energy, cash and ingenuity in this country?

But who are mere mortals to second guess the intentions of Business?  Many commentators have pored over Standard Life’s statement to discern its “true meaning”.  Even Standard Life didn’t actually threaten a move to London lock, stock and barrel.  The company did suggest some assets and staff might be shifted south to “ensure assets and liabilities remain well matched.”  Those in the know suggest that might mean fewer folk actually leave than the pessimists expect.
 
For one thing, the HQ function of banking is shrinking all the time – the bulk of staff are employed in branches.  Why should the branch configuration change just because of independence?
 
Secondly, moving to London means higher salary, office and staff housing costs, longer journeys to work, and lower retention of relatively less qualified staff.  As one fund manager wrote; “In a people business, the wholesale relocation [of Standard Life] would not only be enormously costly, it would require the near-reinvention of the company.”

A Scottish insurance broker living in Bath told me recently, “I get the 5.30 train to London every day.  It’s the only way to guarantee a seat – in first class.”  That’s life in the fast lane folks.  No wonder so many fund managers prefer a house in the leafy suburbs and a quick jog across the Meadows to work instead.

Indeed, if we are concerned about keeping the tiny elite of big earners north of the border post-independence, then the uncomfortable or reassuring truth is that Aberdeenshire contains more multi-millionaires per head than anywhere else in the UK – including London.  Only the relatively young or those who haven’t spent time in the UK capital lately, regard a move to the south of England as the automatic passport to riches and a better lifestyle.

The trouble is most Scots live here — not in the market-driven, competitive, fast-moving, “deil tak the hindmost” society that’s normal in the south of England.  And those stay at home Scots have an old adage ringing in their ears.  The grass must be greener on the other side and no-one would choose to stay in backwater Scotland given half the chance — especially not those mysterious, free-roaming, superior beings who populate Big Business.

This is the negative self-talk that actually anticipated and now perversely clings to the destructive myth behind Standard Life’s “offski” narrative.  And it’s that negative, confidence-destroying self-talk which we must confront to put this welter of wavering industry opinion into perspective. 

Why do we rate the political opinions of business leaders so highly?

The love affair with high flyers ended very quickly in Iceland once they discovered what their “banksters” had done in the pursuit of personal riches.  In his brilliant and prophetic 2006 book Dreamland — A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation, Andri Snær Magnason suggested humble, once penniless Icelanders “worshipped these titans like Gods”—and expected little accountability, conscience or loyalty. 

But that suspension of disbelief ended when the financial bubble burst, the people reasserted democracy, and corrupt bankers and politicians were jailed.  Iceland grew up and recovered a sense of its own worth and values almost overnight – testimony to the resilience and independent-mindedness of these admirably thrawn people.

In Scotland, the dreamland and the frightened nation persist – even though our financial services industry has had an equally bad track record.  Chief Executives have lied, cheated, risked, failed and behaved like pumped up boy racers.  Yet despite the odd retrieved knighthood and lucrative early retirement, Scots still defer to banking leaders — even in areas like politics, democracy and self-determination which are clearly out-with their collective ken.
 
Indeed we seem to treat top industrialists like a precious only child – inconsolably anxious about change, beset by doubt and insistent on the same cup and plate at every meal-time to avoid a stramash. 

Even intelligent, outgoing adults eventually adopt absurd, self-limiting outlooks to placate that needy, uncertain being – “please don’t even breathe — he’s finally asleep.”  In the same way, Scots are in danger of abandoning deeply-held values, common sense and their own intuitive understanding of the risk inherent in all life to placate Big Business and its nightmarish Worst Case Scenario.

Why?

Quite simply because big business creates jobs and jobs are precious.  Thus business appears to wield the ultimate power — especially in Britain where zero hour contracts have caused society to regress to the destructive piece-work labour and harsh judgmentalism of the Victorian era.

We fear big business because the prevailing “us v them” attitude in the workplace makes business owners and high-flying chief executives appear slightly alien to the average employed, PAYE-paying Scot.  Fundamentally folk with money, prospects, suits, big pension pots and choices are not us. They can go – we will not.

This feeling of distance from the big money men and women is partly explained by Scotland’s recent history as a twig on the branch economy where international companies invested and then suddenly disappeared without explanation.  Timex, Lee Jeans, Caterpillar, NCR ….the list has been long and dispiriting.  But Scots feel no closer to the home-grown magnates and patriarchs whose canny investments and cartels created modern Scotland through the steel, ship-building, coal-mining and banking complex of the Victorian era.  The legacy of their total power is with us still.  So too their British loyalties and remoteness from ordinary Scots.

In old-fashioned, antagonistic, first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all Britain, labour still fears capital has other priorities and will not follow any democratic change of direction or “tolerate” different ways of doing things on these British Isles.

This intolerance of diversity, this “my way or the highway” high-handedness, this huge power imbalance between bosses and workers – all of these are reasons why Britain does less well in terms of GDP, child well-being, educational performance and health than many of our more flexibly minded north-European neighbours. 

They are also the reasons many Scots want out of the straitjacketed UK.  The confrontational Anglo-American “us v them” approach has been more or less abandoned by every Triple A rated country in favour of a more productive, consensual, cooperative way of working.  Not here.  Not yet.

Business behaviour mirrors political outlook.  So it should come as no surprise that big business in Scotland mirrors the views of the present Westminster Government and the prevailing Westminster system.  It may be daunting to think of a future without these “titans” at the helm – though in all probability a flourishing independent Scotland will see no more than a small shift of staff to English head offices to comply with EU regulations.

In the rest of Europe it’s normal to have close neighbours, land borders, several languages, ultra- local tax-raising and many ways of doing things.  So business, people and governments have learned to respect diversity.  Sadly for Britain, the dominance of the English language and the barrier of the North Sea have allowed us to sail into the cul-de-sac of Splendid Isolation – a mono-culture where only one language, one government, one way of doing things and one master – the profit motive – is thought viable.
 
We can continue to live like this, or step back, consider the respective risks of stagnation and change.  As the late great feminist, economist & indefatigable Yes supporter, Professor Ailsa Mackay would have said.  Feel the fear – and do it anyway.

 

Lesley Riddoch is the author of ‘Blossom – What Scotland needs to flourish’
Blossom can be bought in bookshops, online at www.luath.co.uk/blossom.html or on kindle http://t.co/0A0J52IP1R

Comments  

 
#
Thistle_2014
2014-03-06 17:37

Well said
 
 
#
mealer
2014-03-06 18:16

That’s an excellent piece Lesley.Very thought provoking.Its not just about bosses,of course.Trade Unions have a role to play too.They will have to be in the boardroom talking not just about workers rights,but also their responsibilitie  s to make the business successful.Thats how it’s done in prosperous countries.Get rid of the them and us culture.Its all part of progress towards a fairer,more prosperous and more equal Scotland.
 
 
#
bringiton
2014-03-06 18:18

Darling on the news claiming that “Make no mistake,indepen  dence will cost jobs”.
I think we all know which jobs he is most concerned about.
If these people put half the energy into protecting working people from redundancies than they have looking after themselves,we would be in a far better place.
 
 
#
handclapping
2014-03-06 18:26

What needs to be pointed out that these “warnings” of risks are part of the requiremnts for companies to show their shareholders that they have considered the risks that affect their business.

Considering Tesco operates both in the North and South of Ireland and in the UK and Poland I doubt they will rate Scots independence a large enough risk to be mentioned in their report.

One wonders if EdF have warned their shareholders of the posibility of tsunami and floods at Hinkley Point, Somerset.
 
 
#
Chateaulait 57
2014-03-06 18:27

Very good article Lesley.
 
 
#
Davy
2014-03-06 18:38

Frankly the more we hear that this large company or that large company is worried about scottish independence and may be leaving, the more that pish just go’s over your head.

The continuious barrage of negativity from the media and the pro-unionists means nothing anymore, infact it would be dammed near impossible to find a country so-called more useless at running themselves than Scotland.Well thats according to almost everyone in the UK media and unionist parties.

BUT on the 18th Sep 2014, oil-rich, energy-rich, food and drink-rich, engineering&design-rich;, education-rich, art&inovation-rich;, whisky-rich,and culture&history-rich; Scotland will vote to be an Independent country again.

And there is nothing the nay-sayers can do about it.

Vote YES, Vote Scotland.
Saor Alba.
 
 
#
Cyprover
2014-03-06 18:38

Splendid article, Lesley.

As Derek Bateman has suggested, these proclamations from the “CEOs”, who are (personally) supporters of Better Together, are working to an agreed timescale of carpet bombing. Annual Reports being published at this time of year to coincide with the end of the UK tax year, giving said “CEOs” a platform that they would not normally have.

Now what was the next phase of this carefully co-ordinated campaign?

Just finished “Blossom” btw. A good, thought provoking read. Thanks.
 
 
#
neoloon
2014-03-06 18:55

The saturation level of fear as pronounced by so-called business experts has been passed along time ago. I believe most people in Scotland have ceased to listen to Project Fear.
 
 
#
theycantbeserious
2014-03-06 19:11

Like the oil industry are going to walk away from an oil rich country. Do they think we zip up the back? Independence will create jobs, and an independent Scotland will attract investment and business. Don’t let the scaremongers bully you, your children and grandchildren out of their birth right.
 
 
#
garryaitch1
2014-03-06 19:37

The more we are reminded by millionaire business men of the fear of independence the more we are likely to say YES we can!
 
 
#
bringiton
2014-03-06 19:41

The fundamental issue with the UK as a state is that it is (a bit like Russia) a top down society starting with the Monarch and working its way downwards to the plebs who have little or no say.
This fuedalistic form of government created the need for working people to devise power structures which protected them from the worst excesses of the privileged elite.
Unfortunately,a  part from Thatcher’s attacks on these structures,the elite within has decided to join the elite outwith,abandon  ing working people to the full forces of the market.
This is the situation which needs to be rebooted and will never happen as long as the basic institutions of state remain intact in the UK.
Independence for Scotland gives us a clean slate to construct the sort of country we Scots want and not have to put up with rule imposed by the London elite for the London elite and friends.
 
 
#
Jamieson
2014-03-06 19:51

“Maybe, just maybe, business knows that the certainty the big boys apparently crave comes gey close to stagnation, rubber-stamping and an ultimately corrosive “good enough” approach in civic life and political decision-making.”

You missed out the most important thing these ‘Big Businesses’ want: a virtual monopoly so they can make lots of money without having to think or innovate.
 
 
#
mealer
2014-03-06 20:05

“Big Business And Its Warnings Of Yes Armageddon”……That’s what the media spin these companies statements as.But what did Shell actually say? Well,the CEO says Independence MiIGHT cause his company a wee bit of hassle so he’d prefer it if we didn’t bother. Standard Lifes actual statement wasn’t anything like as scarey as BBC portrayed it.But all the same,I’ll be interested to see who all gets an honour when they’re next dished out.
 
 
#
tartanfever
2014-03-06 20:45

David Cameron told us a few years ago that the next big scandal in UK politics would be lobbying. Of course, he’s encouraged it tremendously.

In the last few years, some £47m of Tory party funding has come from the City. Banks will never be reformed properly, some tinkering at the edges may happen, but no real changes.

The EU wanted to introduce transaction charges to banks and that is what has led to the Tory proposition of an in/out EU referendum. It’s been happily spun into an immigration crisis by government and media.

I’ve come to the conclusion that an independent Scotland should have publicly funded political parties – donations from private individuals and business should be banned.

It may cost £30m or so, but thats a price well worth paying for a more democratic process.
 
 
#
martin morrison
2014-03-06 21:12

Thank you for this,Lesley. Many talk about some nebulous “game changer” sealing the referendum for us, but I’ve never expected and still don’t expect such. A steady flow of well-articulated insight like your piece might just tip it………
 
 
#
cynicalHighlander
2014-03-06 21:15

What Shell actually said not how it was reported by the MSM.: pbs.twimg.com/…/…
 
 
#
From The Suburbs
2014-03-06 21:51

Greenpeace has submitted Freedom of Information Act questions in a bid to discover how many times Lord Howell has met the Chancellor and discussed energy questions. Lord Howell is the father of George Osborne’s wife, Frances.

Lord Howell is a foreign office minister with responsibility for international energy issues in the Lords, but it is his role as president of the British Institute of Energy Economics that is exercising Greenpeace.

The Institute has Shell, BP and BG Group as corporate members, while the Energy Department is one of its eight sponsors.

As Ed Daniels, chairman of Shell UK has acknowledged, the independence debate is a matter for the Scottish people. A recent Oil and Gas People poll showed that in fact, 70% of oil workers planned to vote for independence.
 
 
#
lumatrix
2014-03-06 21:56

It is about time that Scots and everyone else woke up to the fact that there are NO superiors. There is NO authority except that of the policeman enforced by violence. So please people realise this and be free. Accept no orders. Believe no ‘facts’ but think for yourself and act/vote accordingly.
 
 
#
Breeks
2014-03-07 07:20

Hear the lies. When Scotland prospers, we intend to take our big business elsewhere.

Then I call your bluff. Go. Profit from someone elses poverty and disadvantage. Or stay, and contribute to Scotland’s second enlightenment and rebirth.
 
 
#
willie boy
2014-03-07 07:45

An insightful piece that reinforces why we need independence.
 
 
#
UpSpake
2014-03-07 08:12

The landscape of an independent Scotland will change radically over time, no matter which party governs our country.
The currency debacle is a smokescreen to attempt to protect the city of London and nothing whatsoever to do with independence hence, the decision recently that the UK will underwrite the debt they themselves created. Big of them isn’t it ?.
The comments by the rating agency S&P; is the statement they are making now. The closer to the voting day we get the others will fall into line and scare the pants of Westminster. That is why their rhetoric is so hysterical even now and will only become more shrill the closer we get to September.
The referendum has truely rattled the Establishment and not before time.
 
 
#
Dundonian West
2014-03-07 12:10

OT.Mairi Hedderwick says she would be very happy if Scotland could become independent.
The famouus Scottish author and illustrator speaking on Radio 4 Desert Island Discs this morning.
As well as creating children’s books Mairi writes and illustrates travel books for adults.
 
 
#
John Caskie
2014-03-07 12:25

Couple of points I have to make;

I have worked in the oil industry for 25 years and I can garuntee that BP, Shell and the other oil majors are not concerned in the slightest by a vote for or against independence. If Alex Salmond started wearing flowers in his hair, smoking dope in public and promising to ban all fossil fuels they might get a bit concerned. The change from a Westminster to Holyrood administration will barley make it on to their risk registers.

I can’t speak with much authority about the banks and other financial institutions but I suspect there is a clue in Lloyds threat to move its registration back to England. Have you noticed the giant Lloyds HQ dominating the Glasgow skyline recently? No, me neither. Registration may be legally significant but it doesn’t determine where the operations are based.
 
 
#
RTP
2014-03-07 12:34

George LYON MEP.
I don’t live in this mans constituency but yesterday I had a phone call from his office asking about how I would be voting in the EU elections they soon hung up when I answered all their questions by saying I would be voting SNP and YES in the referendum.
 
 
#
Barbazenzero
2014-03-07 13:48

Scotland is a single constituency for the European elections, RTP, returning 6 MEPs using the d’Hondt method (same as the Holyrood List vote but without counting Constituency MSPs), so you are in the same constituency unless you were joking re your voting intention.

Meanwhile, Lyon’s chum Vince Cable raises an interesting point in the Torygraph’s “Ukip supporters could push Scotland out of the UK” – see archive.is/lZZx4 – including “How on Earth do you expect to persuade the Scots to ignore the siren voices of nationalism and separatism when you indulge in British nationalism and Euro-separatism?


I think that a UKIP victory or close 2nd in E&W; will mark the point where Yes start moving ahead in the polls.
 
 
#
call me dave
2014-03-07 14:11

Glasgow uni debate.

Sound all over the place but worth a look.

May not be around for long as the Uni refused permission to film it.
Might be pulled soon.
Sheridan and Ruthie among the debaters.

Questions start 15mins in.

www.youtube.com/…/
 
 
#
Breeks
2014-03-07 19:03

Good stuff.

I’m curious why people don’t want these debates filmed. Put it on YouTube and you put another 1000 seats in the auditorium. You’d think people would want as many people as possible to engage with the debate, but then I support YES.
Given the virtual monopoly the anti-independence campaign has with the mainstream media, I am fully behind these guerilla videos since they help to redress the balance a little. Shame on all who want the debates kept private.
 
 
#
Early Ball
2014-03-07 23:33

Still there. Tommy and Michelle Thomson a formidable team. Well impressed with the non politicians at Business for Scotland. They have so much authority and clarity about what they say. James Kelly theme was if folk in Manchester and Liverpool are struggling what gives us the right to do better. Maybe if we do go on and do better maybe the folk in the North of England will do something positive as well. Lets hope so.
 

 
#
TheBabelFish
2014-03-07 15:58

Excellent analysis. This is the REAL ‘No’ campaign. Darling and his astroturfers are not. They have been put there as a distraction, to draw attention away from what is clearly a co-ordinated campaign of corporate announcements, one or two a week, each of which is innocuous enough in itself (as they’d have to be, can’t spook the markets), but which each contain a passing reference to the independence debate. Something that the BBC (among others) can spin into another ‘In another blow for Alex Salmond’ story.

So let’s ignore Bitter Together from now on, and concentrate on our real opponents, the Westminster establishment, big business and the BBC. It’s always difficult in these circumstances to know if such a campaign is being actively co-ordinated or if it’s just a case of everyone knowing (same schools, universities, clubs, etc) what they’re supposed to say and do. But if there is a co-ordinator, let’s find out who it is. Because it sure as hell isn’t Darling.
 
 
#
Auld Rock
2014-03-07 19:04

Another excellent piece Lesley. I read Van Beurden’s speech as more of a warning to Cameron and Farrage about the dangers of leaving the EU with Scotland thrown in as a sop to his buddy Cameron. It was also interesting to see that 70% of Oil Workers intend to vote ‘YES’. Aye they’re no daft, they know what lies under the sea and no amount of unionist misinformation is going to suppress it.

Auld Rock
 
 
#
call me dave
2014-03-07 19:07

This news on a WoS thread yesterday but now reported on BBC on the same day Mr Alexander comes up to Scotland to scare us re…pensions.

Cross borders pensions. EU rules change.

Could be mobile phone roaming charges story deja vu all over again anyone!

bbc.co.uk/…/…
 
 
#
CharlieObrien
2014-03-07 20:17

Lesley what a well written piece said a lot that needs saying,just need to get it to those who don’t think things through.
 

You must be logged-in in order to post a comment.