Alex Salmond blasts Treasury over RBS ‘tip-off’ to BBC
First minister demands inquiry after corporation disclosed bank’s decision to move HQ to England in event of yes vote.
Scottish independence latest developments
Alex Salmond has accused the Treasury of leaking market-sensitive information about the future of RBS in Scotland in a dirty tricks campaign to undermine the independence campaign.
The first minister said it was a matter of “enormous gravity” for an unnamed Treasury official to tip off the BBC on Wednesday night about a decision by the bank to move its registered office to London in the event of a yes vote.
That leak – confirmed on Thursday morning to the London Stock Exchange by RBS, sent the bank’s shares down overnight on the Asian markets, the first minister said.
Salmond said he was demanding a formal leak inquiry by Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the UK civil service, and would be sending in an official complaint. He also insisted the BBC had a duty to cooperate, implying it was duty bound to reveal its source.
The first minister’s attack on the Treasury came after a serious of warnings and announcements by major banks Lloyds, the TSB and RBS that they would move their registered offices and some operations to England if there was a yes vote. John Lewis, the retailer, said its prices could rise in an independent Scotland.
The first minister said it was a clear breach of Treasury and civil service rules, which ban any official from releasing market sensitive information. He said the offence was doubly serious since the UK government owns 80% of RBS shares. “It is a basic rule that it can’t be released prior to the announcement at 7am this morning. This is a matter of enormous gravity,” Salmond said.
He accused the Treasury of being a major force in the no campaign: “They’ve now been caught red-handed as being part of a campaign of scaremongering.” There were now “Treasury fingerprints all over” a campaign of “intimidation and bullying which has served the no campaign so badly”.
Speaking at a referendum press conference in Edinburgh, Salmond told the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, that the corporation had an obligation to help the investigation.
He said: “I have always respected the journalistic right to protect sources but I know that the BBC will want to support the investigation by the cabinet secretary [Kerslake] in the leak of this market sensitive information. It is as serious a matter as one can possibly get. Therefore I know that the BBC in its impartial role as a public sector broadcaster will give full cooperation” to the inquiry, he said.
The BBC defended its conduct, insisting it was justified in publishing the RBS story: “We note that Alex Salmond has called for an inquiry by the cabinet secretary and we will await a decision on that request. The story in question was accurate and BBC News exercised normal editorial judgments.”