The Yes campaign’s response so far to the story that Standard Life would consider transferring some of its operations to England from Scotland in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote has been to argue that what the company wants is ‘exactly what the Scottish government has proposed’. Some Nats think this is another example of bullying from ‘monied elites’, but so far the official campaign has wisely blamed the ‘No’ campaign for creating uncertainty for businesses. After weeks of arguing about bullying and ‘campaign rhetoric’ from Westminster politicians, perhaps the SNP realises that making the same accusation of a business for setting out contingency plans would be going overboard (but you never know).
The Standard Life annual report, published today, says this:
‘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.’
It adds that ‘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.’
The issues that Standard Life feels remain uncertain are: the currency that an independent Scotland would use, whether Scotland would rejoin the EU by the target date of 24 March 2016, the shape and role of the monetary system, the arrangements for financial services regulation and consumer protection and the approach to individual taxation.
What’s interesting is that Standard Life has gone public with its concerns about what might happen if Scotland does back independence. After the ‘No’ campaign interventions didn’t seem to frighten off Scots, is this a sign that businesses who had planned to keep their heads down during this debate are becoming nervous that there really could be a ‘Yes’ vote?