When Standard Life announced last month that it would consider moving operations out of Scotland, it presented an inconvenient truth for the SNP.
Since the announcements that the three largest political parties in the UK would oppose an official currency union with an independent Scotland, the First Minister has been keen to claim it is a bluff.
However, with the intervention of Standard Life, an important player in the Scottish financial sector, we have a concrete example of what independence could mean for Scottish jobs and the economy. Subsequent interventions from the likes of Citigroup, Lloyds, Aggreko, BP and Shell have further demonstrated the uncertainty that the possibility of a Yes vote in September is creating.
Standard Life employs 5,000 people in Scotland but supports many other jobs and services. In Edinburgh a huge number of jobs depend upon the businesses supplying support services to financial sector. The impact of a firm of Standard Life’s scale relocating its business to England would therefore have a wider ripple effect on the wider Scottish and Lothians economy. Standard Life is not the only major company considering the reality of separation from the rest it the UK.
Moreover, Standard Life’s position is not just about currency union. Setting out its position, the firm cited uncertainty over interest rates, financial regulation, taxation of pensions and savings and EU membership for an independent Scotland. While Standard Life is a symbolically Scottish institution, the vast majority of its UK customers are from the rest of the UK. However, Scotland’s place in the UK brings benefits and stability in terms of the regulatory framework.
The response from Alex Salmond to the rejection of currency union has been reckless, if predictable. To suggest that it’s a bluff in relation to the declaration of the main political parties and to dismiss the advice of the independent Permanent Secretary to the Treasury is to take a huge gamble with people’s jobs, wages, mortgages, pensions and savings.
We can’t risk the livelihoods of the thousands and thousands of people dependent on the success of Edinburgh’s financial services industries. I don’t believe that Standard Life or the other big firms who have spoken out are playing politics – but their intervention is a much-needed reality check to the lack of answers to the questions posed by the independence referendum.