There has been a bit of a furore over Standard Life’s pretty mild and prudent statements about the preparations it is taking ahead of the referendum on independence. Both sides have done what they do best and highlighted certain aspects and the truth is somewhere in the middle. Let’s just be clear about what they did not say. They did not say they would leave Scotland if it chose independence. Nor did they say they were in favour of a currency union.
I’ve had a look at the actual Standard Life report to find out exactly what it said about independence.
Chairman Gerry Grimstone said:
In September this year, the Scottish people will be voting in a referendum on Scottish independence. Your Company is strictly apolitical and it would be inappropriate for us to give any views on how people should vote. Equally, as one of the largest companies headquartered and based in Scotland, it is appropriate that we have carefully thought through the potential consequences if Scotland were to become an independent nation. We have reviewed all the information that we have available to us at the current time, and we consider that a number of material issues remain uncertain. David Nish covers these issues in section 1.1 of this report.
We have been based in Scotland for 189 years and we are very proud of our heritage. Scotland has been a good place from which to run our business and to compete around the world. We very much hope that this can continue. But if anything were to threaten this, we will take whatever action we consider necessary – including transferring parts of our operations from Scotland – in order to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders. We will continue to seek further clarity from politicians on both sides of the debate, so that we can reach an informed view on what constitutional change may mean for our customers, our business and our shareholders.
From Chief Executive David Nish:
As a large company and employer based in Scotland, we have been following the constitutional debate ahead of the independence referendum on 18 September 2014.
We have a long-standing policy of strict political neutrality and at no time will we advise people on how they should vote. However, we have a duty and a responsibility to understand the implications of independence for our four million UK customers, our shareholders, our people and other stakeholders in our business and take whatever action is necessary to protect their interests.
For this reason, we have engaged with key politicians and analysed the relevant papers published by both sides of the independence debate. These include the Scottish Government publication Scotland’s Future (the ‘White Paper’) and the UK Government’s Scotland Analysis series.
At the time of publishing this report (February 2014), we believe a number of material issues remain uncertain. These include:
- The currency that an independent Scotland would use
- Whether agreement and ratification of an independent Scotland’s membership to the European Union would be achieved by thetarget date (currently 24 March 2016)
- The shape and role of the monetary system
- The arrangements for financial services regulation and consumer protection in an independent Scotland
- The approach to individual taxation, especially around savings and pensions, as a consequence of any constitutional change.We will continue to seek clarity on these matters, but uncertainty is likely to remain. In view of this, there are steps we will take based on our analysis of the risks. For example, we have started work to establish additional registered companies to operate outside Scotland, into which we could transfer parts of our operations if it was necessary to do so. This is a precautionary measure to ensure continuity of our businesses’ competitive position and to protect the interests of our stakeholders. As Chief Executive, my commitment is whatever happens, we will continue to serve the needs of our customers and maintain our competitive position.
So there are the facts. Let’s have a look at the reaction. The nationalists have been at best disingenuous, even trying to make out that Standard Life is supporting them. The notorious Wings Over Scotland tweeted this, implying that the Standard Life report backed a currency union:
Why has no paper today said “Standard Life back Scottish Government plans for a currency union”? Just asking.
— Wings Over Scotland (@WingsScotland) February 27, 2014
When I asked them to tell me where exactly in the report they said that, they replied Section 1.1. I had that open at the time and asked them to quote the exact part. This is what I got back:
@caronmlindsay I agree. But I bet you they DO want a currency union if Scotland is independent.
— Wings Over Scotland (@WingsScotland) February 27, 2014
A fairly standard piece of Yes misrepresentation.
Angus Roberston, SNP MP or Moray, and someone who should know better than to tweet inaccuracies, said Standard Life had threatened to leave Scotland ahead of devolution:
Factcheck: Standard Life threatened to leave Scotland if we voted for devolution. We voted ‘Yes’ and they didn’t leave. #indyref
— Angus Robertson (@MorayMP) February 27, 2014
He used this as justification, but again it’s not actually what they say.
The Herald’s Tom Gordon tweeted this letter to show that this was not the case:
Standard Life did NOT say it would quit Scotland in 1997. In fact, it said devo would not affect business pic.twitter.com/KYkdmSJYpF
— Tom Gordon (@ScottishPol) February 27, 2014
Better Together are clearly playing up the risk elements but are staying on the right side of the truth.
You just have to look at Standard Life’s Facebook wall to see the grief that a relatively mild statement can produce from cybernats:
What do I think? Of course businesses are making contingency plans in case Scotland goes independent. If they have the slightest bit of common sense about them, they make contingency plans for anything that might happen. It would be far greater risk to Scottish business if they didn’t think about what they would do. The areas of concern Standard Life identified is a statement of the bleedin’ obvious if ever there was one.
They may not leave if Scotland becomes independent. On the other hand, if they decide that they need to, they will have done some of the groundwork already. And they will not be the only business thinking that way. If cybernats were to boycott every single one, they won’t be able to buy anything between now and September.