ROYAL Bank of Scotland chief executive Ross McEwan has warned the UK faces a period of “pain and anguish” with Brexit, while declaring it is up to the Scottish people to “make the calls” on the independence issue.

Mr McEwan, speaking to journalists at The Clydeside Distillery in Glasgow, said of the impact of Brexit: “This economy, it will slow down. It will be all right in the long term. I think, in the medium term, we are in for a little bit of pain and anguish. How deep or painful that is, time will tell.

"It will depend if it is deal or no-deal."

A survey by Lord Ashcroft Polls, published this week by Holyrood Magazine, revealed support for independence in Scotland has risen to 52 per cent, when those who do not know how they would vote or plan not to vote are excluded.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Brexiters more baffling than Flat Earthers as Cabinet views hit pound

Calls for a second independence referendum have grown louder as the UK moves towards Brexit, with increased fears of a no-deal departure having spooked sterling in the wake of Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister late last month. Mr Johnson has pledged the UK will leave the European Union “no matter what” by October 31.

Asked about his thoughts on the Scottish independence issue, Mr McEwan said: “Leave it to the Scottish people. It is your call. You have got to make the calls on these things. We have just got to prepare as well as [we can] for that. There is nothing new in that for what we have to do.”

Mr McEwan voiced his belief that the Scottish Government would want the bank to “take the plaque and move it to England” in the event of independence, declaring that the institution's around-£730 billion balance sheet would be “just too big for Scotland…they just couldn’t support it”.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: We must cling on to hope of Brexit slipping through Johnson’s fingers

Asked what such a move would mean in reality, he replied: “Not much at all. We would have to get approval from the Scottish Government and Westminster to say our registered office is now in the UK.”

He added: “As long as things stay competitive here – i.e. we could get talented people and they want to work here – not much changes. We have been moving staff from London to other locations over the last five years.”

Mr McEwan, who announced in the spring that he would be stepping down from his post at Royal Bank and was last month appointed as chief executive of National Australia Bank, said that in his mind the biggest task awaiting his successor related to customer service, “particularly to our retail and business customers”.

He added: “We have done a lot of work. There is a lot of work to be done there.”

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: High time branch-axing banks realised customer is always right

Mr McEwan believes Royal Bank is “incredibly good” in the larger “corporate space” in terms of customer service.

He meanwhile declared that the employee engagement scores of Royal Bank, which employs about 67,000 staff, were “the highest this bank has ever had”.

Mr McEwan, who joined Royal Bank in 2012 and became chief executive the following year, flagged challenges he had faced at customer level in Scotland given that the Edinburgh-based institution had grown to being the biggest bank in the world ahead of the financial crash. He flagged his belief that Royal Bank’s “fall”, amid the crisis, “took a piece out of Scotland”.

Asked about heavy investment by the banking group in its NatWest brand, Mr McEwan said: “I think it is only over time people will see the [Royal Bank of Scotland] brand is still there - it is absolutely Scottish and will stay here.”

He highlighted his view that there would be a “hue and cry” among the customer base north of the Border if the Royal Bank of Scotland brand were to disappear.

Royal Bank had to be bailed out to the tune of tens of billions of pounds in the wake of the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers in autumn 2008. The UK Government still has a 62% stake in Royal Bank.

Mr McEwan highlighted his belief the strategy for Royal Bank of exiting overseas businesses and focusing on the UK and Republic of Ireland – which he described as a “bring it all home” approach and said had been his idea – had been the right one.

He said: “It was my strategy to do that. The fact the [UK] Government loved that strategy was a big, big help.”

On Brexit, Mr McEwan flagged the warnings from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney last week. Mr Carney warned of an “instantaneous shock” to the UK economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “He [Mr Carney] has been painted as the doom and gloom person. I think he is the most realistic person in this country to see what is going on.”