Gay jibe may lead to bank boycott

A BROADCAST by the American TV evangelist Pat Robertson, in which he lambasts Scots for "tolerating" homosexuals, has brought renewed threats from the TUC and other customers to withdraw business from his unlikely new business partner, the Bank of Scotland.

A more circumspect approach might have been expected from Mr Robertson, considering the controversy surrounding the pounds 30m deal he struck with the bank two months ago, for an Internet banking arm in the US. But tip- toe diplomacy has never been the right-wing evangelist's style. His loud, reactionary views on gays and all causes liberal had already made Scotland hostile to the banking deal.

But his attack on Scotland for betraying its Christian heritage and becoming a "dark land" has stirred up a hornet's nest. Mr Robertson went as far as to ask his millions of viewers to pray for the Scots. Now everyone, from the churches to members of parliament, is lining up against the banking deal - and the bank.

Mr Robertson told viewers on 18 May he had been entranced "by the history of that great land", from where his ancestor set sail for the New World at the end of the 17th century. But the reality of modern Scotland had been a disappointment. "In Europe, the big word is tolerance," thundered Mr Robertson. "You tolerate everything. Homosexuals are riding high in the media... And in Scotland you can't believe how strong the homosexuals are."

Before the broadcast most agreed that the deal between Mr Robertson and the Bank of Scotland was a PR disaster. Bank officials had been working hard to persuade prize customers, like the TUC, to remain loyal despite the deal. Yesterday the bank was trying to claw back ground by emphasising its Scottish heritage. A spokesman said the TV broadcast had been a surprise and that officials would be viewing and assessing its contents.

But an editorial in The Scotsman said the bank had "blindly wandered into partnership with a man who insults his customers" and whose views were not welcome in Scotland.

Up to 400 customers, including two Aids charities, have already removed their accounts. Independent financial advisers have warned that the bank is mistaken if it believes the deal with Mr Robertson - who also recently became a director of Laura Ashley - will not harm its UK business.

The TUC said it is reviewing its business with the bank. West Lothian Council said it had met bank representatives to express its concern over links with Mr Robertson: "Our position as a Bank of Scotland customer is still under review and a report is being prepared for the council's policy and resources committee."

Lloyd Quinan, Scotland's shadow deputy social justice minister, said he will raise in parliament the bank's association with Mr Robertson. "I certainly will be questioning whether the account with the bank can be moved," Mr Quinan said yesterday.

"We do not seek to damage a Scottish institution, but if a Scottish institution damages the country, then questions have to be asked."

The University of Edinburgh and the Church of Scotland were given special mention in Mr Robertson's list of Scottish religious slackers.

The university is a Bank of Scotland customer. Its chaplain, Iain Whyte, said: "This outburst makes the bank's decision look even more crass."

Gene Kapp, a spokesman for Mr Robertson, said the broadcaster's comments were taken out of context. "He indicated that Scotland has a great, proud history and like many places in Europe and in the US, what really needs to happen is a return to the more traditional values, period. It really had nothing to do with the homosexual issue," Mr Kapp said. "This deal [with the bank] is not about Pat Robertson, the religious leader.This is about Pat Robertson, the businessman."

In two weeks, the bank holds its annual general meeting. At the same time, a joint conference of Scottish churches will discuss the bank's deal with Mr Robertson. At the Bank of Scotland they must be praying to God to keep Mr Robertson's mouth shut until then.

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