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  By Martin Kelly
 
Recently a few UK businesses have decided to enter the independence debate.  Their annual reports contained a nod to this September’s referendum – some a little more than a nod.
 
In truth most were pretty anodyne and the statements were less about entering the debate on independence and more about satisfying a requirement to acknowledge there was a possibility that Scots could indeed vote to end the Union.

Others though went a little further and decided to inject what looked like politically motivated ‘explosive’ claims into their dull statements.  Two in particular caught the attention of the media, not least due to their close proximity to the issue of currency and all things fiscal.

Standard Life was one of the first out of the block with a carefully worded statement that did just enough to ensure the pro-Union media got the message.  An announcement that the Scottish based company was making contingency plans to register businesses outwith Scotland resulted in the now familiar apocalyptic headlines when the company said:

…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.

On Friday another company, Alliance Trust, joined its financial cousin when it issued a similar announcement.

The referendum in September is creating uncertainty for our customers and our business, which we have a responsibility to address.  Regardless of the outcome it is critical that we are able to provide continuity of service and protection for their investments and savings. To give them full confidence, we have started work to establish additional companies registered in England, in order to provide operational flexibility and to complement our existing business in Scotland.

A blow for the Yes campaign ran the media narrative, from two well-regarded investment companies who were merely looking after the interests of their investors.  They were taking no sides in the referendum campaign we were told.  Taken at face value that is how it looked.  After all, why would any company risk its business by taking sides in the independence referendum?

But as ever in this game of constitutional to-and fro as each side in the independence debate seeks to gain an advantage over its rival, there is more than meets the eye in the cases of Standard Life and Alliance Trust.

Standard Life has form when it comes to the constitutional debate.  Back in 1992 when the campaign for a devolved Scottish Parliament was gaining traction, Standard Life issued the same warning as it did last month.

In 1992, its then Managing Director Scott Bell said: "Any constitutional change which was likely to create uncertainty especially among the 90 per cent of our UK customers who reside outwith Scotland could damage that Trust and could therefore have an adverse effect on our business in future."

The man in charge of the company as it issues its latest claim of impending doom if Scots vote Yes is one Gerry Grimstone.  In the Edinburgh-based insurer's annual report, Grimstone, chairman of Standard Life, says of the company's Scottish links:

"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."

But what of Mr Grimstone himself, is there anything we haven’t been told amid the flashing lights, crash-bang-wallop and smoke that has accompanied the media headlines?

The short answer is yes.

The man who is warning of the perils of a Yes vote is a self-confessed admirer of Margeret Thatcher.  In the 1980s he was a UK Treasury Assistant Secretary responsible for privatisation policy having been appointed by Thatcher herself to oversee the sell-off of state owned assets.

Last April, of his time working for the Conservative Prime Minister and her Chancellor Nigel Lawson, he wrote:

"It oversaw the privatisation programme, and we prepared a quarterly report that went into minute detail as to what stage the 50 or so privatisations we were overseeing had reached.

"Mrs Thatcher loved it,"

He added:

"Were we selling the family silver? I challenge this. The purpose of the programme in those early Thatcher years was never only to raise money. We were selling commercial businesses that never should have been in the public sector or introducing market forces and the discipline of the capital markets into key sectors that had been stifled by state ownership."

But his links to former Westminster Governments does not end there, for in 2009 he was also appointed as an advisor to the last Labour Government on … wait for it … the selling off of state owned assets in order to help reduce the then worrying £1 trillion deficit.

Grimstone was appointed in January 2009 by Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister, as "business ambassadors" for Britain.  Grimstone has been courted and praised in equal measure by both Brown, who he accompanied on foreign trips, and Alistair Darling.

More interestingly, Grimstone is also Chairman of a London based lobbying group called TheCityUK which boasts of having excellent working relationships with senior officials in:

  • HM Treasury
  • The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
  • The Financial Services Authority
  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Somehow, it's not surprising then to find a company controlled by Mr Grimstone issuing statements that aid the campaign being pursued by the current Conservative Prime Minister and his Labour allies in the Better Together campaign.

In the case of the Dundee based investment company Alliance Trust it's also worth noting a couple of interesting and but unreported facts about its COE.

Alliance Trust is headed by the impressively named Katherine Garrett-Cox who was once referred to as 'Katherine the Great'.  Her CV is equally impressive with key positions within a string of blue chip companies to her name.

What few people also know is that Garrett-Cox is also a member of David Cameron's special Business Advisory Group (BAG).

According to the UK Treasury, BAG is:

A small group of business leaders from sectors of strategic importance to the UK provide regular, high level advice to the Prime Minister on critical business and economic issues facing the country.

This group was set up in 2012.  One year after joining the group it was announced in the New Year's Honours list that Garett-Cox was to be awarded a CBE in part, "for her services to the asset management industry".

On Friday, Garret-Cox issued several additional statements following the official company press release.

"What is very clear from conversations and communications we've had with our customers is that this is at the top of their list of risks, and that’s why we felt that we needed to be completely transparent about what’s happening here," said one.

But when asked to demonstrate this desire to be "completely transparent", Garret-Cox seemed to alter her stance.  Asked whether the company envisaged moving all its operations, or just its legal domicile, to England in the event of a yes vote, Alliance Trust refused to say.

There was also a marked reluctance to confirm whether the company backed the Scottish Government’s stance on a currency-union in the event of a Yes vote, or whether it supported calls for the UK Government to seek clarity on EU membership of a newly independent Scotland, something the European Commission has pledged to do.

However perhaps the most surprising answer came when a freelance journalist from Newsnet Scotland asked whether David Cameron's In/Out EU referendum was causing concern?

An official spokesperson replied: "This is not an issue that our shareholders and customers are concerned about at the moment."

However, according to the Herald newspaper, "The company statement highlighted areas of uncertainty for the business, including the jurisdiction and taxation of individual savings and pension plans, financial services regulation and consumer protection.

"It also raised concerns surrounding currency and membership of the European Union."

So, the CEO of a company who advises David Cameron, and has been awarded with an honour by Cameron's Government in part "for her services to the asset management industry", has issued a statement which helps the Prime Minister and his allies in the fight against Scottish independence.

When asked about David Cameron's In/Out referendum, the company claims it is of no concern to investors but when asked in terms of the independence referendum, then EU membership is a concern. Hmm.

I've looked at Standard Life and Alliance Trust and their backend connections to the Westminster power elite.  The same can be said for other companies who allowed themselves to become pawns in the drive to suffocate the independence debate with nebulous claims of 'risk' and 'uncertainty'.

Aggreko warned that Scottish independence will lead to "years of uncertainty and hiatus" for the business.  The company's chief Rupert Soames has well documented links to the Conservative Party and the London elite.  His brother is a Tory MP, his parents were both members of the House of Lords and he is the Grandson of the 'daddy' of British Unionism, Sir Winston Churchill.

BP Chairman Bob Dudley who started off the media circus and its use of big business to attack independence, accompanies David Cameron on trips around the globe.  Shell, whose Chairman also gave his backing to the No campaign by saying he wanted Scotland to remain in the UK, hosted Cameron and other cabinet ministers on their recent trip to Scotland.

Of course none of the above is definitive proof that the statements issued by, or on behalf of the businesses these people head, have been issued for political reasons.  However it is interesting nonetheless to provide a transparent picture of the backgrounds of those whose opinions the media choose to amplify.

After all, BBC Scotland's business and economy editor Douglas Fraser was quick to claim comments supportive of Scottish independence from the heads of British Airways and Ryanair were made in part because both Michael O'Leary and Willie Walsh were Irish.

The same (although non-ethnic) highlighting of the backgrounds of other business figures would be refreshing.

Comments  

 
# Macart 2014-03-09 06:18
And of course we've seen all of this before in the run ups to both 79 and 97. Needless to say the proposed flood of companies leaving Scotland never occurred.

Deja vu all over again.

Common sense approach. The companies making these statements operate across many borders, across currency exchanges and across differing tax regimes. Good grief how many war zones has shell alone operated in and they are supposedly worried and 'uncertain' about a modern peaceful democracy such as Scotland becoming independent?

Even were their claims to have any validity at all (which is highly unlikely), should the corporate world be allowed to influence our choice of governance? 'Course not! If you want to do business in an iScotland eager to engage and open for fresh opportunity then welcome aboard. If not, then as the graphic above illustrates we'll be sorry tae see ye's go.

But this IS our country, our government and our choice.
 
 
# Macart 2014-03-09 07:40
From today's Herald and worth a read.

heraldscotland.com/.../...
 
 
# bodun 2014-03-09 12:40
According to the BBC, Danny Alexander is now threatening even our passports:

bbc.scotlandshire.co.uk/.../...
 
 
# Macart 2014-03-09 13:37
Oh jeez, that's brilliant. :D

Another triumph for BBC Scotlandshire. Acronyms are excellent.

Now if only that other BBC place were half as creative.
 
 
# mealer 2014-03-09 07:16
The media were very keen to highlight the £1 billion Shell invests in the North Sea.But they didn't put a figure on how much Shell MAKES out of the North Sea.Would NNS care to enlighten us?
 
 
# GuidedByPollard 2014-03-09 13:25
It would be interesting to see how much tax they pay as well

As Lesley Riddoch pointed out during last week Shell also made similar claims about 'uncertainty' and 'instability' before the end of apartheid-era South Africa
 
 
# Ready to Start 2014-03-09 07:54
All those companies who are making the threats about moving should be asked:-

Do you agree with the Scottish Government that a Currency Union is in your company's best interests if we vote yes in September?

But our supine media hasn't the guts.
 
 
# Jo Bloggs 2014-03-09 18:33
I wish it were just the media were supine, as they might one day find some courage. Unfortunately, I don't think they're supine. It suits their agenda not to ask the question.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-09 08:37
Our Nation is a bigger prize than any of these companies, and the referendum process is helping us see who our friends are, and those who's loyalties lie elsewhere.

I'll just file it away as the usual unionist tosh: duplicitous bullshit we shouldn't believe, or genuine commentry from fair weather friends who have neither integrity nor loyalty to Scotland.

Why are these companies so vexed? Oh yes, uncertainty, the threadbare substitute for a positive argument which makes the case for Union.
 
 
# robroy 2014-03-09 09:54
I do hope that After A yes VOTE our government will remember what companies were hostile to Scotland.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-09 10:13
Everything ok? My PC having problems accessing NNS, but the phone is ok. Off to check my settings - hope its not the same affliction Wings had...


EDIT: Phew, I'm ok again. It's amazing how quickly an internet error becomes an MI5 conspiracy reaching all the way to GCHQ and Echelon network targeting your personal computer and rubbing out your personal history while there are armed men in black riot gear poised on the roof...
Or it's just Sunday morning with lots of people online.
 
 
# cynicalHighlander 2014-03-09 11:54
Seems to be a browser problem for some its fine for me using Opera.

twitter.com/.../...
 
 
# Abulhaq 2014-03-09 10:40
O'Leary and Walsh are indeed Irish and capable of lateral thinking. A great pity that these "proud and true" Scots business types seem incapable of it. Let them go home to mummy. Not at all convinced we would actually miss their presence.
 
 
# balbeggie 2014-03-09 10:50
Michele Mone is still here despite her threats and I expect will still be here after a yes vote along with the rest.
 
 
# bringiton 2014-03-09 13:42
This referendum,as far as the London elite are concerned,is no longer about Scottish independence but about the survival of the British state and the perks that go with it.
Nothing they say has any real concern about the future welfare of Scots but is entirely about the fate that will befall the rUK elite afterwards.
The headlines should read 2/3 of Scottish companies to remain in Scotland after independence.
 
 
# Hillside 2014-03-09 14:35
You've hit the nail squarely on the head there Bringiton. This is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about - What would be the effect on the 'British Establishment' if Scotland were to vote for independence? Most commentators seem to assume that rUK would carry on as if little had happened, and indeed these commentators are wholly focused on what the effects on Scotland would be. But Cameron et al know better. They realise that Scottish independence means that change in the way that rUK is governed becomes inevitable.
I believe that this is the real reason that the Westminster parties are so opposed to independence - Self interest pure and simple; for them and their cronies in big business.
 
 
# Didnaeken 2014-03-09 20:31
Totally agree. The No campaign is not about what's in the best interest for Scotland but that of the UK.

Westminster assume that they will be the continuing state, that's where all their analysis and/or expert opinions, documents are based on. And these businesses.

They haven't said the outcome if both are successor states, which I believe and hopefully will be the case.

Interesting read:

The Fiction of the Continuing State.

bellacaledonia.org.uk/.../...
 
 
# gus1940 2014-03-09 17:43
Vote YES and wave goodbye to Michelle Mone.
 
 
# Spirtle 2014-03-09 19:23
wasn't sure where else to post this but I'm interested to know how many have watched Gorgeous George's BBC Defence of the Union and the Westminster establishment.
bbc.co.uk/.../...
I once believed he would come round to the plain sense of Scottish Independence and be an asset to the campaign. Now I reckon he has lost it. Scotland is not a big enough stage for his ego.
His patronising and vacuous, irrelevant showboating is well matched with all his Better Together buddies.
 
 
# proudscot 2014-03-09 20:19
gus1940, I'd vote YES for that reason alone!
 

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