By a Newsnet reporter
An email which proves the UK Treasury informed the BBC of post Yes contingency plans being considered by one of the UK’s biggest banks, before the bank’s board had reached a decision, should be published, First Minister Alex Salmond has said.
In an explosive revelation, the Sunday Herald has reported that the broadcaster was notified that RBS would register its head office in London if there was a Yes vote, whilst the board were still considering the decision.
According to the newspaper, ‘A DAMNING email shows the UK Treasury leaked sensitive information about a Royal Bank of Scotland contingency plan to move its registered office from an independent Scotland before the bank itself had decided to announce its plan.’
It reported the Treasury email said: “As you would expect, RBS have also been in touch with us and have similar plans to base themselves in London.”
The Sunday Herald has revealed that the Treasury sent the email to the BBC at 10:16pm on Wednesday evening, while the RBS board was still meeting to decide whether to tell its shareholders of its plan the next day.
The BBC subsequently rushed out a report which then led to a string of claims that a Yes vote would see an exodus of financial sector jobs and would harm the economy of an independent Scotland. The reports were false, and the bank’s CEO was forced to issue a memo on Thursday morning telling staff that the plan would not affect jobs or operations.
In a memo to staff, RBS chief executive Ross McEwan said: “Any decision to move our registered headquarters should have no impact on everyday banking services used by our customers.
“This is a technical procedure regarding the location of our registered head office. It is not an intention to move operations or jobs.”
The RBS CEO apologised to staff after they learned of the contingency through the media.
He added: “It is always my aim to ensure we inform our staff about such issues at the earliest opportunity. I know many of you will have already heard about this first in the media. My apologies for that, on this occasion this was unavoidable.”
The episode has led to First Minister Alex Salmond writing to the head of the UK Civil Service in order to demand an inquiry into what he described as a leaking of market sensitive information by the UK Treasury before the markets had been informed.
Commenting to the Sunday Herald on the latest revelation, Mr Salmond said the email was “an extraordinary and politically explosive revelation”.
“It appears that the Treasury were briefing RBS market-sensitive information 45 minutes before the bank’s board decided to announce its decision,” he said.
“It is clear they did so in clear breach of the Treasury rule book. The Treasury fingerprints are all over this. They orchestrated it in the same way that the Prime Minister was caught red-handed orchestrating the scare surrounding comments by supermarkets.
“The Westminster establishment are now on the back foot. Not only are they fearmongering but they are not doing so competently or within the rules.”
The First Minister has now written again to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the UK civil service, demanding an inquiry. He said: “This makes the case for a full inquiry irresistible extremely urgent.”
The episode also led to an extraordinary exchange involving BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson and Mr Salmond at an international news conference on Thursday when the BBC reporter was heard heckling the First Minister off-camera after Mr Salmond had responded to a question from the correspondent.
Responding to Robinson’s question, Mr Salmond had highlighted his concerns over the role of the BBC in the release of the RBS plan prior to the markets themselves being informed.
The exchange, which was released on youtube has been viewed by over 210,000 people.
Despite his question being answered by Mr Salmond, a bruised Robinson bizarrely claimed on that evening’s BBC news that the First Minister had refused to answer his question.
Despite receiving hundreds of complaints relating to Mr Robinson’s claim that Mr Salmond had not answered his question, the BBC backed the report saying it was ‘balanced and impartial’.
In an official statement, the BBC said: “The BBC considers that the questions were valid and the overall report balanced and impartial, in line with our editorial guidelines.”
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