You will probably have been as surprised as I was this week to see Labour and Conservative politicians queuing up to say they are worried that the giant mega-banks - supported by taxpayers’ money - are bad for the economy.
You will remember that Liberal Democrats have been arguing that point since the banking crisis first hit. As liberals, we are instinctively fearful when a private corporation starts to look like a monopoly. My priority has been to stand on the side of small businesses and customers against the constriction of competition.
I still remember almost exactly a year ago when Labour and Conservatives combined in the House of Commons to overturn the specific concerns of the Office of Fair Trading and allow the take-over of HBOS by Lloyds. They won the vote 424 to 64. Alex Salmond called it the “deal of the century”.
I met the EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes in the summer. She made it plain to me, as a fellow Liberal, that she thinks that giant banks are bad for business for everybody else – especially when they are being financed by the taxpayer. That’s why I propose to move Bank of Scotland out of the giant Lloyds Group and have it back home in Scotland, lending to soundly-based Scottish businesses. That is the demand I hear from the companies I have been speaking to in high streets and business parks across Scotland.
Still on the economy, our next task in the Scottish Parliament is the Scottish Government’s Budget. My priority is to make sure it tackles the economic reality facing so many individuals and families in Scotland. Unemployment has gone up by 70,000 in the last year. The number of young people leaving school and college this year is the highest for a generation. A fair society would not allow them to become a lost generation simply because they try to enter the world of work at the depths of a recession. Our amendments to the Scottish Budget will be focused on putting Government resources into supporting these people, equipping them with the skills and experiences that will help them get the most from economic recovery when it comes. And, if we have to, we will take money away from the SNP’s vanity projects and quangos to pay for it.
I will be able to touch on these very important proposals for people in Scotland at our conference in Dunfermline on Saturday.
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats