From the outset, the reasons for HBOS shareholders and the wider business community to support this bid have never been convincingly spelled out. The terms have been downgraded twice. A report from the Office of Fair Trading detailing concerns over competition policy has been swept aside. The attempt to present the bid as indissolubly woven into government financial support for the banks has crumbled. Statements from the Chancellor and senior Treasury officials have made clear that separate assistance would be available for an independent HBOS. Thus, the one vital rationale for this takeover has been cut away. Yet shareholders are being urged to continue to support this bid as if there was no future whatever for an independent HBOS when that is clearly not the case.
Neither the chairman of HBOS nor its chief executive, Andy Hornby, have shown any willingness to entertain serious proposals that would safeguard the independence of the company entrusted to them. On the contrary, they give the unfortunate impression of being keen to get shot of the bank to a domestic rival at virtually any price. In this regard, the ability of Mr Hornby – whose 60,000-a-month consultancy agreement with bidder Lloyds has shocked many – to fairly consider alternative proposals looks questionable.
The entry of Mathewson and Burt, all guns blazing, might now seem too late in the day. The meeting to approve the take-over is on 12 December. And its location in Birmingham will deter many Scots from attending. But it is for shareholders to decide. Of course, the directors of HBOS should be closely questioned. And if they are dead set against any other proposals, in whose interests are they acting, other than their own?
From the first, The Scotsman has set out concerns over the implications of this take-over for banking competition, employment, recovery prospects and for our banking heritage. For these, we will continue to campaign, constantly, fearlessly and with vigour. But in this, no-one should be misty-eyed about what an independent future for HBOS might entail. It will involve cost savings and job losses. It will mean a large government shareholding. And it will require sweeping change in management, for the board, which presided over this debacle, has lost the confidence of investors and customers. That is bad enough. But in refusing to consider proposals that could maintain the group's independence, the chairman and chief executive now leave themselves no option but to stand down.