When is a Scottish Bank not a Scottish Bank?

In 2008, Alex Salmond hailed RBS as the pride of the "Celtic Lion" economy that he envisaged for an

Is the Royal Bank of Scotland a Scottish bank? The answer, you might think, is in the question.

Technically, of course, RBS is a British bank, majority-owned by UK taxpayers, although the shareholding is kindly managed on our behalf by something called UK Financial Investments Ltd, which is, according to its founding mandate, run "at arm's length" from the Treasury.

In more buoyant economic times, however, when RBS was a private sector champion, it was a potential source of pride and financial clout for Scotland, should it decide to dissolve its union with England. (This was back when Scottish Nationalists looked westward to the dynamic performance of Ireland and considered whether there wasn't a "Celtic Lion" economy ready to be unleashed in imitation of the big cat over the sea. People don't talk so much about the Irish "Celtic Tiger" model these days.)

Channel 4's Faisal Islam published an interesting document on his blog last night showing how Alex Salmond cheered Fred Goodwin on in his takeover bid for ABN Amro - the a deal that ultimately broke the bank. As late as March 2008, Salmond was still selling Edinburgh's financial services buccaneers as evidence that Scotland could stand on its own as part of an "arc of prosperity" alongside Ireland, Iceland and the Nordic countries. The SNP leader told an audience in Harvard:

With RBS and HBOS - two of the world's largest banks - Scotland has global leaders today, tomorrow and for the long-term.

Or not, as it turned out. When RBS needed bailing out by the UK government, its balance sheet assets were equivalent to 2,500% of Scottish GDP. So the question naturally arises, how would an independent Scotland have coped? The SNP answer is to blame Westminster (naturally) and the Labour government for the regulatory failure that allowed the crisis to build in the first place. In that respect, I supposed he agrees with David Cameron.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor who oversaw the bail out (and a Scot who will be playing a lead role in Labour's anti-independence campaign) has attacked Salmond today for being "slippery" on the issue of RBS exposure. Why should the SNP claim Scotland's oil revenues, Darling asks, but not its share of debt incurred to keep his former financial champion afloat? It is a decent question.

Meanwhile, RBS has announced 3,500 job losses as part of plans to shrink its investment banking operations. That is partly because the bits being scaled down weren't making enough money and partly in anticipation of restructuring to be enforced by the government over the next five years. Under proposals set out by the Vickers Commission on banking reform, high street and retail functions (the bits ordinary people use and trust) must be separated from investment functions (the dodgy casino bits everyone blames for impoverishing us all).

The Treasury had initially resisted the idea of enforcing separation too rigorously on the grounds that it would be a complex, time-consuming procedure that would necessarily delay the process of re-privatising UKFI's banking shares. George Osborne would have liked to sell a few tranches of RBS ahead of the next election to build up a war chest for a populist pre-polling day budget. That doesn't look too likely now. A source inside RBS tells me that this time last year, the bank was fully expecting to see some of its government shares floated in 2012, but the downturn in the economic outlook in the second half of 2011 killed that idea. Now everyone is resigned to the fact that HM Government is the boss for a long time to come.

Eventually, the reformed and restructured banks will be sold off. Then a whole new question arises. How much of the proceeds of that sale belongs to Scotland?

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.