Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond has shrugged off claims that independence would lead to a flight of banks from Edinburgh, claiming that “bullying” Westminster politicians were trying to scare Scots into voting No in next week’s referendum.
On the morning that Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds announced contingency plans to move their registered headquarters from Edinburgh to London, Mr Salmond said Scots would rise above “scaremongering” orchestrated by Downing Street.
In a bullish performance in front of a rapidly expanding international press corps assembled in Edinburgh, he said: “Scotland is on the cusp of making history. Scotland will vote Yes next Thursday.”
Mr Salmond responded to the banks’ warnings with a typically robust counter-attack, accusing the Treasury of leaking market-sensitive details, Westminister politicians of “blatant bullying” and the BBC of misreporting the debate.
He presented himself as the leader of a country that was “rediscovering its self confidence”, one that would not be cowed by a negative No campaign that was “in terminal decline”.
Mr Salmond claimed that the warning by big Scottish banks that they may relocate their headquarters to London was little more than a “brass plate” issue, with little consequence for jobs or his country’s corporation tax base.
He accused the Treasury of leaking to journalists on Wednesday night market-sensitive information about RBS’s headquarters plans, saying the leak was a “matter of extraordinary gravity”. The Treasury declined to comment.
Meanwhile he said Mr Cameron’s office had tried to orchestrate a scare campaign by “trying to galvanise leading business people to try to say something negative about Scotland”.
The Scottish first minister also questioned “the BBC’s role in these matters”, suggesting it had misreported the economic implications of Scottish banks registering their headquarters in London.
Mr Salmond quoted from a letter by Ross McEwan, RBS’s chief executive, to staff, which said moving its headquarters was “a technical procedure” which would not have an impact on operations or jobs in Scotland.
Bankers in Edinburgh, however, fear that over time the switch of headquarters to London would dilute the Scottish nature of the banks. One senior bank figure said there would be a “gravitational pull” towards the City of London.
Mr Salmond did not agree, claiming that Scots had “moved beyond these warnings and scaremongering”. He said that even if the banks re-registered in London they would still pay the same corporation tax in Scotland as before because the tax was based on economic activity.
His speech ended with questions from journalists from around the world, including a large number from Catalonia and the Basque Country, both of which are watching the Scottish referendum closely.
Mr Salmond declined to express a view on Madrid’s refusal to permit an independence referendum in Catalonia, pointing out that the Scottish poll was part of a “consented process” agreed between Edinburgh and London.
Inigo Gurruchaga of the Basque newspaper El Correo said that some people in his region were “amazed and surprised” that the Scottish independence move had been agreed so calmly with the government in Westminster.
Russian television asked if an independent Scotland would take a softer line than London towards Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine. Mr Salmond said No.