By Martin Kelly
Respected former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir George Mathewson has expressed his anger over the way information on the independence referendum is being distorted.
Sir George has spoken out after UK Chancellor George Osborne visited Scotland this week and claimed the rest of the former UK would not want an independent Scotland to share the pound.
In an interview with the Times newspaper, the highly respected former banking giant criticised the current UK Chancellor and former Labour Chancellors Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown.
“I cannot understand why the sterling zone would not wish to have the revenues from North Sea oil and the benefits of all the other Scottish exports, such as whisky, to support the currency," he told the Times. “It’s one failed Chancellor, George Osborne, adopting the same tactics of another failed Chancellor, Gordon Brown, seeking to influence opinion by saying: ‘Let’s use fear.’
“This kind of tactic will not work. To have one more snooty English person coming up and telling us how things are going to be ... in most parts of Scotland, it won’t be all that meaningful."
Responding to arguments that an independent Scotland would not have a great deal of influence over Bank of England policies, he said:
"We might have a scintilla more influence than we have at the moment. But then, at the moment, we’ve no influence at all."
Sir George poured scorn on suggestions that an independent Scotland would not be better off and dismissed claims over EU membership and interest rates as "side issues".
"We’ve got the UK, the most in-debt country almost, in the whole world — and somehow it’s a disaster for Scotland to have its own economic government? These are almost side issues and they’re based on fear. These things will be solved and worked out in due process and due time, and if it’s the Bank of England currently with effective control over the interest rate ... that’s the way it is at the moment."
Sir George was scathing of another former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling saying his claim that an independent Scotland could not have coped with the collapse of HBOS and RBS, had "forever coloured him in my eyes”.
He said. "The reason RBS was bailed out and HBOS was bailed out is because the whole UK economy was threatened. You don’t bail out banks because of where their head office is, or because of what their name is; you bail out a bank because if you don’t, your economy is going to go down the tube."
Sir George said there was no such thing as a national bank and pointed out that almost all of RBS business in the UK had been carried out in London by Nat West.
"It’s taken a long time for people to understand that. RBS’s head office is in Edinburgh, but 95 per cent its business was done in London. NatWest was a subsidiary of RBS. Who owns a bank doesn’t make any difference; it’s what it does."
The banking giant also blamed decades of Labour party control over Scotland for the emergence of a ‘dependency culture’.
"We would be better off blaming ourselves than blaming England for every failure or inadequacy. I believe that Scotland has, over the last century, been developed as a fiefdom of the Labour Party and a dependency culture, and we have seen less of that since Alex Salmond took control - and that can only be for the good."
Anger and Frustration
Sir George’s intervention is evidence of a growing frustration at the way the independence referendum is being presented to the Scottish public by a pro-Union dominated media.
Banner headlines followed the UK Chancellor’s visit to Scotland to promote the UK Treasury report which contained claims which had little or no merit, with some media professionals suggesting Scotland could be forced to adopt the euro.
There is also growing anger at the presentation of various pro-Union claims over independence by BBC Scotland which appears unwilling to provide mature and independent analysis of many of the claims despite providing saturation coverage of each scare.
Friday saw another attack on independence with pensions being used in order to present as "uncertain" something which the Scottish government insisted was straightforward as demonstrated by the cross border agreement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. An official Scottish government statement on cross border pension agreements was truncated in Radio Scotland broadcasts in order to remove the reference to Ireland.
BBC Radio Scotland presenter Brian Taylor was also forced to defend the pro-Union make-up of his Friday afternoon debate which discussed pensions and currency in an independent Scotland by claiming the panellists were not debating independence but were only discussing "general politics".
Mr Taylor’s response followed criticism by an audience member who asked why the panel consisted of three pro-Union guests and only one pro-independence guest.
[Newsnet comment – The intervention of Sir George Mathewson into the debate and his obvious frustration at the way the relative arguments are being presented highlights a problem that Newsnet Scotland has been pursuing since we first appeared in 2009.
There is nothing can be done about newspapers – they are private businesses and are fully entitled to present news as they see fit. BBC Scotland on the other hand is funded by us. It terms of its presentation of the referendum debate, it is now a running sore and has long since dropped any pretence of impartiality and abandoned its remit, which is to inform.
The refusal this week by Radio Scotland presenter Hayley Millar to question Alistair Darling on the Ian Taylor donation was in keeping with the damage limitation approach to the No campaign adopted by the broadcaster. The side-lining of the highly professional Isabel Fraser in favour of less capable Andrew Kerr follows a very public attack on Ms Fraser’s integrity by a Labour MP.
Newsnet Scotland would urge people to attend the Glasgow rally on Saturday May 18th organised by the bard2014 group, which calls for balance from our broadcasters, if they want to apply pressure to the BBC.]