THE City of London will use its lobbying power and political clout to ensure trade and business ties do not suffer if Scots vote to break away from the UK, its Lord Mayor says.
Roger Gifford said it was important to reassure international firms that the outcome of the 2014 referendum would not jeopardise their valuable business links with Scotland.
Gifford, who was born in St Andrews and keeps two homes north of the Border despite having worked in London for 35 years, said he had no political views on independence.
But during an official visit to Edinburgh and Glasgow last week he told Scotland on Sunday: “We want to keep trade flowing and we want to keep financial services flowing. We will look at the detail of everything that comes forward, whether it be devolution or independence, and see how it’s going to affect business.”
He compared the debate over devolution and independence to issues arising from the European Union, where targeted campaigning from the City has helped mitigate the effect on business. He added that Scottish independence was now being discussed in City circles, with firms keen to ensure that free movement of people, goods, information and services continues unhindered whatever the political outcome.
Gifford pointed out that many major institutions, such as American banks, had built up their European operations by branching out from London, with Scottish cities among the most popular destinations for functions such as asset management and legal services. Despite problems that have seen banking sector jobs shrink in recent years, that process is continuing as firms from Asia and the Americas choose Britain as a base from which to tackle the lucrative European market.
“We would want them to feel as comfortable as before that business is easily done and moved around,” he said.
The Scot became the first banker since the financial crisis to wear the City’s chain of office when he was sworn in last November, and is spending much of his year as Lord Mayor touring the world to promote British business.
Urging Scottish organisations to join his trade missions to developing markets, he said Scotland was a valuable asset to Britain’s financial and professional services industries, with law firms and other businesses keen to outsource jobs to Edinburgh and Glasgow after winning a bigger slice of the market for writing international trade contracts and offering advice.
Gifford’s comments came as a senior Scottish lawyer urged business leaders to resist the pressure to declare where they stand on the separatism debate.
Douglas Connell, joint senior partner at Edinburgh law firm Turcan Connell, told Scotland on Sunday that his firm has decided to take a neutral stance when it comes to advising private clients and charities in the run-up to 2014’s referendum.
He added: “There is pressure from both sides of the campaign for businesses and business leaders to adopt a non-neutral stance, but we have very deliberately and consciously selected a particularly sturdy and high-level fence from which we hope to facilitate debate and be a source of technical advice.”
Connell said some of the taxation and regulatory issues arising from the Scotland Act “are particularly interesting for us and our clients”.