Brian Monteith: Crucifying a saviour to appease the mob

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Envy is an awful trait.

Worse still is how politicians play upon envy to try to direct our support for their actions. As if that is not bad enough, politicians go further still, they use such deviousness to mask their own shortcomings and double standards. Such an example was offered to the public this week, when the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland – or RBS as it prefers to be known – was hounded into forgoing his rightful bonus.

Now, I know that I am going to be unpopular for saying this but I really don’t care: Stephen Hester is worth every penny of the million pound shares bonus he has given up. I can say this for three reasons.

Firstly, Hester is not to blame for the mess that was made of the Royal Bank by Fred Goodwin and others, and we should not take out on him any feelings of anger and revenge that we feel towards those responsible for what happened in the past.

Hester signed up to revive RBS and, as we, the public, now own 83 per cent of the bank, we should wish him well and be quite prepared to pay the best man for the job what is the going rate for top-flight banking executives.

Now, this is not to say that the way that such bankers are paid is ideal. Clearly there are problems with the bonus culture that are worth addressing, but beating up on Hester will not make any difference to the other banks that are not publicly owned and will simply convince the best talent that RBS is not a place to relocate to – unless the package offers exceptional reward, or compensation.

So, taking out our anger on the RBS chief is cutting our nose off to spite our face and likely to be counterproductive in making RBS not just profitable but have the kind of balance sheet that allows it to be taken to market and sold to the benefit of the taxpayer.

Secondly, it stands to the test of reason that Hester must be worth every penny because if he was underperforming then he would not be entitled to the bonus in the first place.

Thirdly, it is always to castigate the type of earnings that top bankers make – but how often do we consider the responsibilities that they carry against the responsibilities that other high-earners carry for, er, no-one?

Do we rail against the earnings of Elton John, Kate Moss or Noel Gallacher? We moan and grumble about the high pay of footballers like Wayne Rooney, but when such a star signs up to our own team we can’t wait for them to burst the back of the net and soon forget that the weekly pay they are on is greater than most of us will earn in a year. And whose jobs, whose livelihoods are they responsible for? The groundsman, the hairdresser or the piano-tuner – rather than the tens of thousands of employees and the hundreds of thousands of pensioners and shareholders that Hester works for?

The fact is that people like Hester are hard to find and if they are to take on the job for RBS rather than earn a tidy sum for a competitor then we need to pay the market rate.

Hester is only being paid what the politicians who drew up his contract were willing to offer him – and who were they? Well, they were the same politicians that lauded Goodwin, egging him on to deals that ended up going sour, and giving him the knighthood he’s just lost to seal the deal.

The people now laying into Hester, like Ed Miliband, were in the cabinet that agreed to his appointment and the generous contract they gave him. People like David Cameron are no better, for rather than defending the taxpayers’ interests and the sanctity of contract law, the Tories are showing their ugly and base populist side. The truth is that the politicians are responsible for encouraging the bad bankers and are now willing to throw good bankers to the hounds – it will end up costing us far more than Hester’s bonus, and that’s how we should be looking at it.

Only way is up?

SOMETIMES there is good news that deserves to be retold so forgive me, but I cannot help but shout hosanna for the installation of the first escalator at Waverley Steps. And about time, too.

Escalators should have been a condition of planning consent for the redevelopment of Waverley market in the 1970s – yes, it has been that long since we have been demanding them – some 36 years.

It is said that things take too long to happen in Edinburgh. Well, this example makes the trams look ahead of schedule. No doubt it will still offer that wind tunnel gust that has embarrassed us all when we reach the top – but I can’t wait to use them.