LETTER FROM SCOTLAND: 26th April 2013

Their future in question….?

We’ve been discussing the issue which most concerns us Scots…..money. The Chancellor George Osborne came north on Tuesday to warn us that if we vote for independence next year we could not count on remaining in the Sterling zone, our banks might no longer be allowed to issue Sterling bank notes and we would probably be reduced to using groats and bawbees as our economy slid the way of Greece and Cyprus.

Pound CoinsActually, he didn’t quite say that last bit, but others did, as they drew inspiration from the Iron Lady’s son. What he did say was scary enough: “Abandoning current arrangements would represent a very deep dive indeed into uncharted waters.” He suggested it might not be “worth it” for the rest of the UK to agree to a currency pact with an independent Scotland.

The Osborne Treasury has brought out a paper outlining four options an independent Scotland might have as regards its currency. We could try to negotiate our way into the Sterling zone – perhaps with a place on the monetary policy committee. We could just use Sterling anyway, without a currency pact. We could join the Euro zone. Or we could issue our own currency, and this is where the “groat” suggestion comes in ( the Scottish four pence piece first introduced in 1357) and the “bawbee” ( the six pence piece first introduced in 1537).

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne
All of the above, the No campaigners say, would be to Scotland’s disadvantage and would tie our hands more than the present Unionist arrangement. But at first minister’s question time in parliament on Thursday Alex Salmond laughed this off as “scaremongering” and said Scotland’s £50bn a year of natural resources would guarantee our currency’s future. He waved a thick blue report in the air, a report from his panel of economic experts, which recommends that an independent Scotland should do what George Osborne seems to be ruling out: namely, negotiating a place in the Sterling zone.

Highland-Spring-LogoBut politics is the art of the impossible. And so is economics it seems, for while most of us are struggling through hard times, Scotland’s richest 100 citizens have seen their wealth grow very nicely, some by up to 60 per cent. We now have six billionaires in Scotland, according to the Sunday Times rich list. Top of the pile is Mahdi al-Tajir, said to be worth £1.6bn. His business interests are worldwide, mainly in oil and metals, and often in interesting places like the United Arab Emirates, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands. Born in Preston in Lancashire, Mr al-Tajir is classed as Scottish because he owns an estate in Perthshire and the bottled water company Highland Spring.

Next on the list comes the whisky families, the Grants and the Gordons, then Sir Ian Wood the Aberdeen oil magnate, then the Thomson family, owners of the Dundee Courier. The last two to make it into the billionaire bracket are the transport tycoon Alastair Salvesen and boss of the engineering company Clyde Blowers Jim McColl. But Lord Laidlaw, the conference organiser, is pretty rich at £770m. So are the bus entrepreneurs Brian Souter and Ann Gloag. JK Rowling is number 9. And the poor old Duke of Sutherland comes in at number 10 with a mere £525m to his name.

Giant Panda Tian Tian at  Edinburgh Zoo
Giant Panda Tian Tian at
Edinburgh Zoo
Strangely missing from the Sunday Times list is Sir Tom Hunter, the sports shop entrepreneur and philanthropist but perhaps he’s given away all his money. And Sir Tom Farmer, another famous philanthropist, appears to be down to his last £132m.

But these aren’t the only money spinners in Scotland. Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas appear to have restored the zoo’s financial fortunes, making it the second most visited tourist attraction in Scotland, after Edinburgh Castle. Visitor numbers were up more than 50 per cent on the year before the charming couple arrived in a diplomatic bag from China. This week, incidentally, they “mated” with a little help from zoo staff.

And since we are following the money, I suppose I have to mention football. Yet again, the professional clubs have failed to agree on a reform of the league structure. Largely, I gather, it’s a dispute over money but in the impenetrable babble of the game it’s difficult to tell . And the shenanigans at Rangers Football Club have taken another strange twist which would challenge the best shake charmers in India.

The man who “saved” the club Charles Green has resigned as chief executive amid claims that he was in cahoots with the former owner Craig Whyte over the purchase of the club. Mr Whyte in turn is now claiming ownership of Rangers’ assets and , through another company, has reported Mr Green to the Serious Fraud Office. Meanwhile, a new chief executive has been appointed, businessman Craig Mather from Nottingham, who now has to steer Rangers back to respectability and up from the third division to which it was consigned last year because of its financial chicanery.

The absence of Rangers has meant a more or less automatic victory for Celtic in the Premier League and it duly took its title last weekend with a resounding 4-1 win over Caledonian Thistle. The manger Neil Lennon declared he was the “happiest man in the country” and I hope he was not talking about money.