Friday, 7 November 2008

We should take a leaf from the Scandinavian bank book

By Rob Gibson MSP in the John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier
Published: 07 November, 2008

HBOS has a future, but as yet it has to await the decision of its shareholders and those of Lloyds TSB in a 75 per cent approval vote.

We debated the need to give room for another bid to offer an alternative.

The Scottish Parliament voted for such a move on Thursday, October 30.

I spoke of the need to learn from past mistakes and for a European-wide agreement for smart regulation.

Unbelievably Labour speakers claimed that bank boards were best placed to decide. But the virtual nationalisation of HBOS, Lloyds and RBS on top of Northern Rock means the public are major shareholders.

When Norway and Sweden tackled the results of banking deregulation in the 1980s they sacked bank boards, wrote down shares and only sold their national shares taken to refloat many banks after their slimmed-down portfolios were in profit. Gordon Brown learned only half the lesson from Scandinavia as did the Bush Government.

Yet in Highland towns an HBOS branch sits near to a Lloyds one. That stark example of potential job loss, of amalgamation and loss of competition, does not concern Lord Mandelson or his master.

Indeed the glee with which Labour welcomed the difficulties of Iceland's banks and their subsequent political stance to dismiss the right of Scots to decide a future for banking governance is London-knows-best 21st-century style.

In debate I was pleased to quote the remarks of Eamonn Gallagher, a former director general of the European Commission and former EU ambassador to the UN. Commenting in The Herald on October 24 he said: "It is extraordinary that in the midst of an international banking crisis – and even as his own country is slipping into recession – Gordon Brown chose to argue that somehow global banking problems mean that Scotland should dare not consider questions of good governance any further.

Is it not a rather curious assertion from the man who has held the reins of financial power in the UK for the past 11 years?

"The argument seems to be: 'Things have gotten really bad on my watch – best let me keep handling things'."

Some commentators suggest the UK will have the deepest recession of any of our European neighbours.

COMMITTEES in the Parliament are quizzing panels of spending agencies and the builders, engineers and financial experts of our nation. This is the budget scrutiny process that sets every subject committee to report to the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee.

I asked questions on rail transport plans, climate-proofing our energy-challenged housing, on the effects of the credit crunch, on marine renewables and related to that why the Lib Dem and Labour opposition persist in misrepresenting the cash available to HIE for their newly-focused role.

I am always struck by the strengthening communities function of HIE in contrast to the dismal approach of Scottish Enterprise that has no such social remit.

Any tour of lowland towns and villages will show where the Highlands and Islands score on the enterprise encouraged in every small place, not just the big towns.

Anyway the crux is this: if any changes are proposed by subject committees to government spending plans then a reduction of spend in another area has also to be identified and agreed. Then the finance committee has to bring the whole package to the chamber for all MSPs to vote.

Room for manoeuvre is very tight. That's because at present the Scottish Parliament receives the vast bulk of its spend from a block grant.

The London Treasury collects all the national taxes then allocates our Scottish spend.

Hopefully all parties agree that after 10 years of devolution we need to see ways to raise the taxes here in Scotland to make the politicians even more accountable.


CAITHNESS came to Carbisdale Castle last Saturday. My parliamentary assistant Gail MacDonald, who staffs our Grant Street office, tied the knot with her beau Stewart Ross amidst much ceilidh, kilts and country music celebration.

Group photo of staff from left to right: Anne-Flore Hervio, my Parliamentary intern from Britany; Haley St. Dennis, my Parliamentary Assistant; Grant Baskerville, my former Parliamentary Assistant now advisor to Aileen Campbell MSP and Alyn Smith MEP; the blushing bride herself; the boss; Niall MacDonald, my Press Officer.

Stewart and his Wick Academy team-mates gained a historic nil-nil draw against Edinburgh City in the second round of the Scottish Cup the previous Saturday and subsequently appeared with his friends on page 61 of the Scottish Sun in stag night gear dressed as world series wrestlers!

Alas he and several of the team members missed the replay in Wick where the 4-1 score line for the Edinburgh team told its own story.

Nevertheless, as they say, the match made by Stewart and Gail was more than compensation for the jarring halt to Wick Academy in their quest for cup glory this season.


BARACK OBAMA delivered the votes as promised. This week the USA starts to hold its head higher and tackle its huge problems inherited from the Bush presidency.

For those seeking change in the States, the opportunities for positive wealth redistribution and a kick start for the real economy have resonances around the globe.

I hope Scots, too, are inspired and hold our nerve for the changes being wrought for the better by our own democrats, the Alex Salmond-led SNP Government.

We all congratulate Obama, let's not turn the clock back – we need Scottish solutions to Scottish problems in partnership with our neighbours, not diktat from the London cynicism.

1 comment:

Gail Ross said...

What a lovely looking team you have there! x