Ex-RBS chairman George Mathewson plays down Scottish bank fears

An independent Scotland would be able to use tax and other policy to expand its financial sector, Sir George Mathewson, former chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, has said, in an intervention intended to counter fears that leaving the UK could be economically damaging.

The claim by Sir George, a longstanding supporter of Scottish independence, comes as Scotland’s independence debate intensifies again after the close of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, will on Tuesday hold his first televised referendum debate with Alistair Darling, head of the pro-union Better Together group. It will be the biggest set-piece event of the independence campaign so far.

Financial industry representatives and big institutions such as Standard Life and RBS have highlighted the potential risks of independence to the sector, which employs almost 100,000 people in Scotland.

But Sir George argued in an opinion article published on FT.com that the anti-independence No campaign had exaggerated the difficulties of ensuring effective regulation and managing the risks posed by RBS and Lloyds, both part-owned by the UK government since the financial crisis. He claims that the remaining UK would be likely to agree a formal currency union with Scotland.

“Scotland can support and expand the financial services sector using the powers of independence to attract new businesses and new entrants to the market,” he writes.

Pro-union campaigners seized on an opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday newspaper that found little change in support for a Yes vote on September 18.

Support for independence had slipped one point since early July to 40 per cent, while the No vote was unchanged at 46 per cent.

“Alex Salmond is running out of time to make his case,” Better Together said.

But Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister, insisted the Yes campaign’s own polling showed it had the momentum in the “final straight”. She told The Observer newspaper that sport and politics were separate but that the successful Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and a record Scottish medal haul would lift the national mood.

“I think it will inevitably leave a feelgood factor,” the deputy first minister said.

Some pro-union politicians think support for staying in the UK could be strengthened by commemorations of the start of the first world war, beginning with a service for Commonwealth leaders in Glasgow on Tuesday morning.

But nationalist campaigners will watch for any attempt to politicise the events.

Tuesday’s debate between Mr Salmond and Mr Darling is seen as an important opportunity for the Yes campaign to win over undecided voters.

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