Scottish independence: Alex Salmond opens up war of words with BBC over RBS 'leak'

The First Minister demanded an investigation into the apparent leaking of information about RBS, who announced its plans to England in the result of a 'Yes' vote

Helena Williams
Thursday 11 September 2014 15:18 BST
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond campaigns for a Yes vote in east Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond campaigns for a Yes vote in east Edinburgh, Scotland (EPA)

Alex Salmond has opened up a war of words with the BBC over its reporting on RBS’s plans to move south of the border in the result of a ‘Yes’ vote.

The First Minister demanded an official leak inquiry into whether the Treasury briefed the corporation about an RBS warning over Scottish independence.

The comments were made during a heated press conference after exchanged verbal blows with BBC News political editor Nick Robinson, who pressed him to answer a question about the tax consequences of the RBS move.

Salmond said Robinson had “heckled” him, and said he will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to demand an investigation into the apparent leaking of "market-sensitive" information about RBS.

A statement from the bank, which has been based in Scotland since 1727, said that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, “it would be necessary to re-domicile the Bank’s holding company and its primary rated operating entity to England.”

It added that the decision would have no impact on everyday banking services, and intends to continue to employ a significant level of its operations and employment in Scotland.

Speaking at a press conference for international journalists in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond said: "A Treasury source told the BBC that it had discussed the plans with RBS.

"The Treasury, officials or ministers, are not allowed to brief market-sensitive information.

"Market-sensitive information, and it's a basic rule, cannot be released prior to the market announcement at 7am this morning.

"RBS share price changed overnight. This is a matter of extraordinary gravity.

"I've always respected, and I will continue to respect, the journalistic right to maintain and protect sources.

"But I know that the BBC will want to co-operate with the inevitable investigation by the Cabinet Secretary to the briefing of this information, given that the briefing of information - even if we weren't in a referendum campaign, even if there weren't purdah rules which are meant to apply to government - the briefing of market information is as serious a matter as you can possibly get."

'Yes' campaign supporters try to disrupt a gathering of a 'No' campaign rally that Labour party leader Ed Miliband addressed (Reuters)

The developments followed comments earlier from the chief of John Lewis, who hinted that a “Yes vote” could lead to higher supermarket prices.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the partnership that owns Waitrose, said that it costs more to deliver goods to parts of Scotland than it does further south, and if Scotland and England became separate countries, retailers would consider making their customers bear the extra costs.

“From a business perspective there will be economic consequences to a Yes vote,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ”For various reasons - regulation and transport costs etc - it does currently cost more money to serve parts of Scotland. Most retailers don't run different prices, they absorb that in the totality.

“If you go forward several years and you see a divergence of different things - particularly currency - that creates the likelihood, not the certainty, that costs would be higher.

His comments were dismissed by the Scottish finance secretary John Swinney: “Charlie Mayfield is entitled to his opinion. I think the argument is one that is firmly contested by other retailers who do not take the view that has been expressed this morning by Charlie Mayfield”.

The announcement comes after a new opinion poll on Scottish Independence found that the no vote has regained momentum with 53 per cent of voters backing the Better Together campaign.

The Survation poll for the Daily Record gave the pro-UK campaign a six point gap over yes.

Earlier this week surveys suggested the race was neck and neck, but the latest figures suggest that the sudden surge in backing for independence has subsided.

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