James Moore: Standard Life’s conservative view wins friends south of the border

 

Outlook “In making our comments, we were not seeking to make a political comment.” If he can make more disingenuous statements like that with a straight face, then a political career may be ahead for David Nish, the chief executive of Standard Life.

You might have missed the fact that the life insurer actually came out with a rather good set of interims, because the company made sure the focus wouldn’t be on them.

A reiteration of its warning about Scottish independence was close to the top of emails ostensibly containing the results’ highlights sent to journalists yesterday.

So was the fact that Standard felt that it hadn’t received answers to questions about an independent Scotland’s currency, EU membership and the way it will handle financial regulation.

At a time when most big companies are doing everything they can to avoid getting entangled in the debate, Mr Nish and Standard Life jumped right into the middle of it. Which seems to have been their intention, despite what they’d have you believe.

Of course, Standard has long been a bastion of old-style Edinburgh Unionism, and conservatism (only sometimes with a small c). Its late chief executive, Scott Bell, was a vocal opponent of devolution and communicated that very clearly to his staff, and to anyone else who cared to listen.

But his successor, and the company, are playing a subtler game here than simply trying to persuade fellow Scots to vote “No”, by threatening to shift jobs south if they say “Yes”. 

For starters, the company needs to reassure its customers and shareholders during a period of uncertainty. If it loses too many toss-ups for mandates to English-based rivals, such as Legal & General or Prudential, then future results won’t look too good.

But that should have been covered when Standard first said it was making contingency plans to move businesses south in the event of a “Yes” vote several months ago.

Yesterday’s statements, coming so close to the vote, may actually have been aimed at a rather different audience.

However Standard’s words are perceived North of the border, they will go down very well in the South, and especially in Westminster. By banging the Unionist drum it will have won friends, and be owed favours, enhancing its prestige and clout in the process. That’s something the company’s canny – and well-connected – chairman, Gerry Grimstone, will have been well aware of. The after-hours chatter holds that certain life insurance bosses, notably the Pru’s Tidjane Thiam and Nigel Wilson at Legal & General, were called by the Chancellor, George Osborne, before he made the surprise decision to scrap the requirement for people to buy an annuity with their pension savings. If Mr Nish wasn’t on the “to call” list, he will be in the future.

Yesterday’s noise was therefore part of a clever play by Standard Life. A deliberate, and a very political one.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness