Thursday 12 December 2019

Salmond attacks BBC over bank's plan to move south

A man erects a Scottish Saltire in the garden of his cottage on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides yesterday. Photo credit: REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
A man erects a Scottish Saltire in the garden of his cottage on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides yesterday. Photo credit: REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Simon Johnson

IRATE SNP leader Alex Salmond last night declared war on the BBC after the broadcaster disclosed Royal Bank of Scotland’s decision to move its headquarters to England if there is a Yes vote in next week’s referendum.

The First Minister dismissed the economic significance of announcements by RBS, Lloyds Banking Group, Tesco Bank, TSB and Clydesdale Bank to re-domicile south of the border, saying they only meant moving “brass plates” instead of jobs.

He refused to accept it was a damning verdict by some of Scotland’s largest employers over his plans for the country’s currency after separation. The banks’ share prices increased after their announcements but Mr Salmond suggested this was a coincidence.

Instead he argued the most important issue was starting a leaks inquiry into who from the British Treasury briefed the BBC – which he wants to abolish after a Yes vote – about the RBS announcement.

Mr Salmond directed a tirade at Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, who repeatedly challenged him to answer questions about the economic impact of RBS’s decision.

He accused Mr Robinson of “heckling” him at a press conference in Edinburgh for international journalists covering the independence referendum while a group of his nationalist supporters cheered his broadside.

In an extraordinary performance, he attacked major Scottish employers such as Standard Life and BP for colluding with London to undermine independence.

In a separate BBC interview, he appeared to concede that he had not factored in the tens of billions of pounds of sterling reserves the governor of the Bank of England said he would require using the pound without a formal currency union.

Mr Salmond said the BBC’s disclosure of the RBS decision on Wednesday night was a matter of “extraordinary gravity” and he was writing to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the British civil service, demanding an investigation.

The First Minister, a former RBS economist, told BBC Radio Scotland: “What concerned me is not the impact on jobs because there will be none . . . what really concerns me is how this information was released to the BBC.”

Accusing the Treasury of a leak, he said: “It is part of a political gambit during this referendum campaign from the United Kingdom government. Perhaps the BBC will investigate or even reveal who that source was.”

At the later press conference, he referred to a medieval cannon at Edinburgh Castle as he accused the government of leaking the announcement.

Mr Salmond said the Treasury had fired the “Mons Meg, the great gun in Edinburgh Castle at the Scottish people (only) then to find it so spectacularly blowing up in their face” as a leaks inquiry would have to follow.

But Mr Robinson asked about the economic impact of the banks’ decision, adding: “John Lewis’s boss says prices could go up, Standard Life’s boss says money will move out of Scotland, BP’s boss says money will run out.”

He questioned why voters should believe Mr Salmond instead of men “responsible for billions of pounds of profits”.

 But, to applause from his  aides, the First Minister said Mr Robinson should explain the BBC’s role in the leak.

Mr Salmond said the change would not affect a separate Scotland’s corporation tax receipts, referring to a letter to staff by Ross McEwan, the RBS chief executive, saying jobs and operations would not move.

Coinciding with a visit to Edinburgh by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Standard Life announced plans to move savings, pensions and investment operations to England on Wednesday and BP and Shell said it backed expert warnings that oil will all but have run out by 2050.

“There’s clear evidence while the prime minister was busy telling us what a wonderful nation we were, his business adviser was desperately trying to get any business he possibly could to say something negative,” Mr Salmond claimed.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News