AT another time, Anas Sarwar and Gordon Brown would be walking, talking adverts for how good an independent Scotland could be. In vastly different circumstances, each benefited from the qualities long associated with this country.

In Mr Sarwar’s case, his family found that hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit could overcome significant challenges in a less enlightened age. Mr Brown’s intellectual gifts were fostered in the state secondary school of a working-class community in Fife. I’m glad they’re both Scottish.

Mr Brown, former UK Chancellor and Prime Minister has spent much of the last decade giving the Pied Piper of Hamelin a codger’s makeover; sucking the joy out of what remains of old people’s lives with wild, apocalyptic visions of what independence will do to their pensions.

Remember his oft-cited (and conveniently forgotten) claim in 2014 that voting No was the best way to safeguard Scotland’s future in the European Union? His chief acolyte, then and now, is Mr Sarwar, who is currently bidding to be Scotland’s First Minister.

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In the months ahead their supporters will feast on the comments this week of Alison Rose, chief executive of the NatWest Group, owner of RBS. Ms Rose said that the bank intended to move its HQ to London if Scotland became independent as its balance sheet would be “too big” for the new polity.

There was no compelling reason for Ms Rose to state this. There is no imminent prospect of a second referendum on independence. This was simply a snide comment made in the knowledge its significance would be raised by several levels of magnitude.

Let’s remind ourselves of the character of the financial institution her company owns. Ian Fraser is the author of Shredded: Inside RBS the Bank that Broke Britain, which remains the defining work of the 2008 crash.

Mr Fraser later observed how RBS continued to hammer British businesses. In an interview conducted in 2014, Mr Fraser said of RBS: “It’s a rogue institution which is behaving possibly in a criminal but certainly in a dishonourable way to many of its SME borrowers.”

He was reflecting on the 2013 Tomlinson Report which highlighted in wretched detail the predatory behaviour of the bank’s business turnaround division, the Global Restructuring Group.

As well as bringing the economy to the brink of collapse, RBS failed its employees and its customers. In Adam Tooze’s 2018 book, Crashed, the author was coruscating in his condemnation of RBS and several other large financial houses as they sought to save their skins after 2008. “The result of the collective flight to safety, not by households but by the largest actors in the global financial system, was a trillion-dollar disaster.”

The Herald: Gordon BrownGordon Brown (Image: PA)

In 2008, RBS was considered too big to fail; now it believes it’s too big to succeed. Paying any heed to this cowboy outfit’s thoughts on the economy is like attending a lecture on carbon reduction by Jeremy Clarkson.

One commodity is rarely mentioned in the numbers pulled down by Scottish Unionists, who get chippy when they think their patriotism is being questioned. It’s perhaps the most valuable of them all, but is one that defies quantifying: reputation. If a country can be said to possess identifiable characteristics then Scotland is known globally for its industry; its fairness and its financial rectitude.

Before banks decide to part with cash they make assessments based on reputation and confidence. Yet, RBS and those who parade patriotism seem bent on destroying both Scotland’s reputation and any confidence the global community might otherwise have had to invest here. They’re playing a dangerous game.

They know that the prospects of Scotland becoming independent in the next five years are as likely as not. As such, simple good sense and a degree of rectitude would dictate caution. If the constitutional future of the nation hangs in the balance they must know that wild accusations and incendiary statements at this stage will do little to build confidence in Scotland. Yet they and their children must continue to carve out a future for themselves post-independence.

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They will insist they have a duty to signal the risks implicit in detaching from the ‘broad shoulders’ of the Union. We’ll soon know just how broad those shoulders are. Disadvantaged and marginalised communities know from recent experience that Conservative governments are highly selective in lending the weight of those shoulders.

Many of those politicians and financiers who predict financial disaster in an independent Scotland live affluent and gilded lives. Does this make them somewhat more relaxed at channelling the apocalypse? After all, the fortunes and connections they have accrued will always provide them with padding from the damage their intemperate words might cause those less fortunate.

They’ll also know that vast numbers of Yes supporters were once Labour voters. In making the switch many of them were not persuaded by economic arguments and were impervious to the dire warnings of economic Armageddon.

Many live in communities where more than a decade of New Labour rule made no meaningful improvement in their circumstances. The nation’s wealth remained stubbornly in the hands of the few and not the many. They simply felt that independence was a chance worth taking because their lives couldn’t be any worse than they’d been over the last several decades.

Prior to the pandemic the UK was emerging from a decade of austerity in which working-class communities took the brunt of Tory book-balancing. The bedroom tax; Universal Credit; the Rape Clause were all part of a deliberate policy of dehumanising entire communities. The main purpose of the DWP was to delay payment or obstruct it by all means possible. They rolled this out in the knowledge that, in some cases, it would become a death sentence. Their cruel and unusual decisions undermined families’ rights to warmth, food and housing.

Once more the books must be balanced by another Tory administration and we know what approach they think works best. They call it: “letting the bodies pile up".

Of course, with independence comes uncertainty. But I’ll take the risk rather than face the absolute certainty of who’ll be made to suffer when Tories start their book-balancing.

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