EDINBURGH’S financial services sector will flourish in an independent Scotland, Alex Salmond has claimed.
The First Minister dismissed renewed warnings from top companies that they were preparing to transfer parts of their business to England if there is a Yes vote.
And in an exclusive interview with the Evening News, he insisted the skills and talents of those employed in the sector would help bring prosperity to Scotland after independence.
He also welcomed comments from two big names in Scotland’s world of finance – Sir Angus Grossart, who founded Scotland’s first merchant bank, and Martin Gilbert, newly appointed to head Scottish Widows investment fund – saying they had no fears about an independent Scotland.
Speaking as David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all visited Scotland in the wake of a weekend poll putting Yes in the lead for the first time, Mr Salmond said: “Standard Life has just reissued the same statement they issued months ago, no doubt because the Prime Minister was instigating that in the last two days from business leaders.
“But now we have two giants of the financial sector pointing out that they believe the scare stories are exactly that, that an independent Scotland will be wealthy and prosperous and will have a flourishing financial sector.”
Mr Salmond said the fact that two such substantial figures were saying there was nothing to fear from an independent Scotland should give people confidence.
He said: “The positive voices who say the financial sector should rely on its skills are the ones that will be heard. Recycling previous statements is not going to carry the day.
“People know the history. I think Standard Life said the same thing about devolution and they’re still here.
“And I passed today that huge office development at the corner of St Andrew Square financed by Standard Life Investments – that doesn’t seem like the actions of a company that is doing anything other than investing hard cash in bricks and mortar in one of the prime financial location sites in Scotland.
“We’ve already had this week people who tried to jump up and down about financial markets and share prices on Monday who were made to look very foolish on Tuesday when the situation was totally reversed.
“The only panic I can see is not in the financial markets but at the heart of the Westminster government.”
Mr Salmond, himself a former Royal Bank of Scotland economist, continued: “The financial services will flourish in an independent Scotland because it will accent the skills and abilities that exist – and that’s the point Angus Grossart and Martin Gilbert have made.
“People who look at the skills and abilities of the financial sector in Edinburgh know that’s what makes it prosperous, what makes it attractive.
“The No campaign has been trying to run economic scare stories for three years now. People in Scotland are beyond this now – we have moved beyond the scare stories and we’re into looking at the possibilities of what independence can bring.”
He rejected the idea that EU regulations about head office locations would mean companies relocating from Edinburgh to England.
He said people often failed to distinguish between a firm’s head office and its registered office.
“Lloyds Bank’s headquarters is in Gresham Street, London, where it has always been for 140 years. What Lloyds Bank have in Scotland is a brass plaque on The Mound, which represents precisely no jobs.
“But no it won’t be necessary because we will have a commonsense agreement on a common currency.”
Mr Salmond said independence would mean special benefits to Edinburgh as the capital.
“Edinburgh will become the capital city of an independent state and therefore will have all the attributes of a capital city.
“In the last few weeks, Edinburgh has been the international cultural centre of the world and we’ve seen through the glorious expression of the variety of festivals just how meaningful that is in this economy.
“The capital city of an independent state has many of these characteristics all the year round.”
He said the city currently had 15 full-time consulates. “If Scotland was independent there would be a minimum of 90 full-time embassies and legations in Edinburgh. In terms of a direct jobs boost that’s substantial in itself, and there would be indirect jobs too.”
Pointing to the level of international interest in the referendum, he said: “You can’t move in prime locations in Edinburgh without falling over a member of the international media.
“That gives an insight into what things look like in the capital city of an independent state.
“So Edinburgh overwhelmingly stands to benefit from progress towards independence, just as it would stand to lose if Westminster succeeds in putting Scotland back in its box.”
Mr Salmond was scathing about the extra powers being proposed by the three main UK parties. “What is on offer is a repackaging of the insipid devolution that was published in the spring to widespread disappointment and condemnation.
“Reform Scotland described the Labour proposals as a missed opportunity, lacklustre, failing to meet the challenge – and they’re a devolutionist body.
“Reheating cauld kale is not going to get the heart beating any faster.”
He said David Cameron and his ministers had refused to allow devo max as an option in the referendum.
“The idea that following a No vote, the same people want to grant you the very thing they were determined to keep off the ballot paper is nonsensical.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime to dictate events and if we don’t take it we go back to a situation where politics is dictated to us by Westminster.
“Edinburgh as the capital of an independent state would become a place where real business is done on all these issues on a constant basis, bringing with it substantial benefits.
“These benefits will be hugely greater than if we continue with a parliament which will be judged very much second division under devolution.”
He sought to allay fears about research funding after independence, saying the SNP saw no reason why joint funding councils with the rest of the UK could not continue.
“But if that weren’t to happen, we have also guaranteed no loss of income to universities as a result of that because the Scottish Government will make good any loss or any gap that remains.”
Mr Salmond went on: “The threat to our university system is the application of discriminatory, backward-looking policies in regard to overseas students.
“We have enjoyed flourishing success, for example, with our links with China, led by Edinburgh University and added to by Heriot-Watt, and exemplified by the burgeoning number of Chinese students choosing Scotland.
“But even as we have achieved that, we have lost a large number of our Indian students, taken away by the policies of the UK Government which has made it difficult to get visas to come and reversed the progressive policy of allowing people who have graduated to work in Scotland. Many Indian students finance their studies by working in Scotland for a year or two after graduation, contributing their skills to the Scottish economy.
“We want to be known and recognised, particularly in Edinburgh, where we have such world-leading universities, as the home of the Enlightenment and the home of the education of many students from around the planet as well as for providing free, high quality, unrivalled to the generations of Scots who aspire to a university or college education.”
Mr Salmond went to Piershill yesterday to link up with the Margomobile – the Yes campaign vehicle in which Jim Sillars is taking Margo MacDonald’s pro-independence message to working-class communities across the Central Belt. “Margo was a great spirit and it’s wonderful to see her spirit living on on the campaign trail,” said the First Minister.
“Jim has been doing enormous work touring round Scotland galvanising support in a way the people at Better Together could never do.”
So with the late surge in the polls for Yes, did it feel like 2011, when the SNP defied predictions to win its overall majority?
“This is a lot better than 2011,” said Mr Salmond. “In 2011, the SNP had a huge victory. In 2014, the people of Scotland will have a huge victory. We are beyond being scared by Westminster. The bogeymen are in the cupboard.
“If they come out in the light of day they will disintegrate like Dracula in one of those old Hammer horror movies.
“And the problem for Westminster is once the bogeymen are defeated they have nothing positive to offer.”