Bank sources said Sir Bruce's decision was a response to a potential conflict of interest, but there were also reports of a flare-up between the two august Edinburgh houses.
In a letter to Norman Lessels, chairman of Standard Life, Sir Bruce said he would continue to work constructively "in order to find an acceptable solution if Standard Life decides to sell some or all of their shareholding in the bank".
Standard Life, which is being advised by Lazards, said it had decided on the move because the near pounds 1bn stake, representing over 7 per cent of its UK equity investments, had become too large for a well-balanced portfolio. The stake was purchased in 1985 with a view to developing commercial ties that never, however, materialised. It was also seen in Scottish circles as a guarantee of the bank's independence.
Sources say that Sir Bruce reacted badly to Standard Life's decision, fearing that it has put the bank's independent strategy at risk. In the recent past, Barclays and HSBC have informally expressed an interest in BoS.
Since Standard Life's announcement there has been a chorus of veiled warnings from the Scottish political establishment about the dangers of for- eign predators. Michael Forsyth, the Scottish secretary, expressed the hope to Sir Bruce that there would not be a hostile bid.
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