Analysis: Referendum never far from minds of UK ministers

THERE were many logical reasons to choose Edinburgh above the other 31 contenders to be the home to the headquarters of the Green Investment Bank, but almost every decision made in regard to Scotland these days has the shadow of an independence referendum hanging over it.

So while Edinburgh is the fourth biggest financial centre in Europe and has access to the renewable energy research and sources north of the Border, its apparent success is as much to do with the UK government wanting to show Scotland is still an important part of the Union.

If any proof was needed about the political side of this decision, it was the acceptance of an idea, put forward by Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, for the Green Investment Bank to be prefixed with the letters UK.

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While it’s fair to say having a new body headquartered in Scotland with a smattering of staff probably will not have voters running to the ballot box to save the Union, the UK government will hope it is part of a drip-drip effect of building up a picture showing Scotland and the UK are “strong together and weaker apart”.

It is also true to say that, had it gone to one of the English contenders with far fewer credentials than Edinburgh, or, worse still, just been another public sector body located purely in London, this could have become a mini cause célèbre among the Nationalists.

The decision in 1993 to switch submarine refitting from Rosyth in Fife to Devonport in the south-west of England, where the then struggling Tory government was defending lots of marginal seats, was one of the decisive factors in the final push for devolution.

But thanks to some weak opposition and strong lobbying from Scotland, the government can now wheel out the fact that the UK Green Investment Bank is headquartered in Scotland as a positive contribution it has made north of the Border every time the independence referendum issue is debated.

If, as is hoped, this new body attracts investment to Scotland’s capital and sees new businesses open as a result, it will also help the UK government lever away credit for an economic recovery north of the Border from Alex Salmond.

However, this is not yet a win for the Unionists. The bank is split between Edinburgh and London, and there is still a danger it may be little more than a name plate on a building where the board meets occasionally, with a couple of administrative staff, while the action and jobs are all down south. If that were to happen, it could yet become symbolic of empty gestures from the UK that do little for Scotland.