Bill Jamieson wonders how badly ‘Brand Scotland’, with its associations of canniness and caution, has been damaged by the financial crisis and a dismal Scottish Prime Minister
Scotland’s fortitude has certainly been tested these past 12 months. Its proud claim to have a special excellence in finance — an innate canniness and caution — has been shattered by the demise of its two banks headquartered in Edinburgh, Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS. It didn’t matter that New York, London, Dublin and Frankfurt also suffered blows to their banking systems. These were blows that Scots took personally, a wound to our very definition. Scotland was whisky, lochs, glens, tartan — and banks. There were also, of course, other stains on the brand, at least as far as England was concerned: a surfeit of Scottish Labour Cabinet members, chippy Scottish nationalists constantly whingeing over money, a Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, relishing the prospect of a Westminster parliament ‘hung by a Scottish rope’, and a cheerless, luckless, moody Scottish Prime Minister.
Scotland’s brand of politics — one that defines the nation by the size of its government budget and public sector — has plunged from favour. But it has been the blow to the banks that has caused the greatest soul-searching. In Edinburgh, from the elegant Georgian squares of the New Town to the Hanseatic alleyways off the Royal Mile, it seemed less like a banking crisis than another Darien — that ill-fated 17th-century attempt to create a utopian colony in Panama that did for our dreams, our wealth and our hopes of Scottish independence. Might the shattering of RBS and Bank of Scotland do the same for the SNP’s ambitions? Scotland’s share of UK public debt is reckoned at 9 per cent. With the UK figure rising to £1.4 trillion by 2013-14 this would suggest a liability of £126 billion, well over 100 per cent of Scottish GDP.