Sir Gerry Grimstone, chairman of Standard Life, which has agreed a multi-billion merger with Aberdeen Asset Management, told the group’s AGM that the Scottish Government had said it has a mandate to hold a new referendum on independence given the UK vote to quit the single market.
He said it remained uncertain whether a second referendum will take place but that “if there was to be (one) we would assess the relevant implications for stakeholders like we did in 2014” – the year of the last Scottish independence vote.
Grimstone said if Standard Life believed the results of an indyref2 put the interests of those stakeholders at risk by constitutional changes, “we would look at whatever steps we would need to take to protect those interests”.
Three years ago the firm warned that it might move parts of its operations to England amid the constitutional, regulatory and financial uncertainty if Scots voted for independence.
Grimstone’s comments at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre followed a similar refusal by his Royal Bank of Scotland counterpart Sir Howard Davies at last week’s RBS shareholder meeting to rule out moving its HQ south of the Border if Scottish independence is achieved.
Separately, the Standard Life chairman said the firm was continuing with its contingency planning for access to the European single market where it has half a million customers in Ireland, Germany and Austria as the Brexit talks go on.
He said the group “cannot take a chance” on a satisfactory outcome of the “complex” Brexit talks. Grimstone added that the “most likely scenario” remained that Standard Life would use its existing Dublin operation as a legal entity to serve those European customers.
Shareholders were told that the group’s declared final dividend for 2016 of 13.5p meant it will have returned £5.4 billion to investors since it ditched demutualisation and listed on the stock market in 2006.
“That’s about £1bn more than the total initial value of this business (at demutualisation). That’s quite an impressive performance record,” Grimstone said.
Standard Life’s remuneration report won a 97.47 per cent shareholder vote in favour.