Insurance giant Standard Life today signalled it could relocate its operations from Edinburgh to England if Scotland votes for independence.
The company, which employs 5000 people north of the Border, said it had started putting in place contingency plans, including setting up new companies outside Scotland, to which parts of its operation could be transferred.
Standard Life, which has around £240 billion of assets under management, is the first major company to warn it could pull out if there is a Yes vote in the referendum.
In the company’s annual report for 2013, published today, chairman Gerry Grimstone said: “We have been based in Scotland for 189 years and we are very proud of our heritage. Scotland has been a good place from which to run our business and to compete around the world. We very much hope that this can continue. If anything were to threaten this, we will take whatever action we consider necessary – including transferring parts of our operations from Scotland – to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders.”
But he insisted his company was “strictly apolitical” and it would not be appropriate for Standard Life to offer suggestions as to how people should vote in the independence referendum.
The firm issued its warning as it reported operating profits of £751 million in 2013, a fall of 13 per cent on a year earlier.
Standard Life chief executive David Nish said the company had “started work to establish additional registered companies to operate outside Scotland, into which we could transfer parts of our operations if necessary”.
He said: “This is a precautionary measure to ensure continuity of our businesses’ competitive position and to protect the interests of our stakeholders.”
Mr Nish said a number of material issues remain unresolved in connection with independence, including the currency Scotland would use and the shape of its monetary system. He also highlighted arrangements for financial services regulation and consumer protection, the approach to individual taxation, especially around savings and pensions, and on what timetable Scotland could join the EU.
Mr Nish added: “We will continue to seek clarity on these matters, but uncertainty is likely to remain. In view of this, there are steps we will take based on our analysis of the risks.”