We should be banking on a brighter future for Scotland

THE latest siren voice against Scottish independence comes from the world of banking.

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Clydesdale Bank is a familiar name on Scottish high streets, but since 1987 it has been owned by the National Australia Bank.

This week the Chief Executive of NAB warned that independence may give rise to "significant additional costs" for the bank, and that contingency plans are in place.

I couldn't help noticing that this report was combined with the news that the bank is already facing "significant additional costs" from complaints over its conduct in the sale of interest rate hedging products and payment protection insurance.

Like so many other banks it's putting ever bigger sums of money aside to compensate customers who have lost out through such misconduct.

It's hard to believe it now, but once upon a time our banks had a good reputation for caution, good sense, and investing in both the economy and the community.

Indeed the Clydesdale was founded by a group of self-styled "liberal radicals", who were intent on creating a genuinely local bank with its roots in the community it served.

Similar intentions lay behind the creation of many other small banks and building societies.

Many of their names may still be seen on high street signs, but in reality most have been swallowed up by bigger concerns and exist only as brand names today.

As for their behaviour, it could hardly be further from those early intentions.

Clydesdale is better than some, but when we look at many of today's banks we see grotesque inequality of pay, breath-taking irresponsibility with other people's money, and a lack of any ethical framework aside from the golden rule "don't get caught".

What's worse, banking is still treated by many politicians as an industry in its own right. In reality it's no such thing; it's supposed to be there to ensure investment into real industry instead of reckless gambling in the casino economy.

I believe that if Scotland does vote for independence we should take the opportunity to put banking back in its place - and that place is the community.

After the failure of the modern banking system and the taxpayer bailout that followed, we should aim to break the stranglehold of a tiny number of megabanks, in favour of a rich diversity of small banks, regional banks, municipal banks, mutuals and credit unions; the kind of diversity some European countries still enjoy.

A diverse, ethical and community-rooted banking culture is possible, one which invests in local economies and in a greener, fairer future for the country.

If today's bankers see independence as a threat to their current way of doing business, I can only say I hope they're right.

For more, visit http://bit.do/banking

Finance

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