Recent years have been painful for those of us who have a deep affection for the RBS, among whom I count myself as the first six years of my working life were spent In its employ. What I didn’t know at that point was that I would marry the boss’s daughter – not my local Manager’s daughter, you understand, but my ultimate boss, Ian McLeod, head of the Branch Dept. Our family connection with RBS runs deep and we still hold shares in the company, not just as taxpayers.
RBS has been back in the news this week with the brouhaha over Stephen Hester’s £1M shares bonus and Fred Goodwin’s knighthood being withdrawn. I’m not going to say much about the former, save that it is a lot of money, but if he gets the £45bn of taxpayers’ money back, or even makes a profit for the nation, then he would be worth every penny.
Fred Goodwin’s situation is different. It appears to have been hubris on his part in leading an over the odds bid for ABN Amro that was a major element in the exposure of RBS to bad debt, high leverage and cash shortage. Since his knighthood was given for ‘services to banking’ and he became the iconic baddie in the press and among the public, it was no surprise to hear that the relevant committee was going to recommend to the Queen that his honour be annulled. But let’s be clear about what was happening here. This was political revenge on ‘bankers’ as a genus and a very clear example of a ‘scapegoat.’ In the OT the ‘scapegoat’ was to bear all the sins of the people and be sent into the desert – compare that to the fate of Fred who now inhabits something of a wilderness, at least compared to his previous existence, and he carries as much opprobrium as it is possible for the press to heap upon him. He carries the sins of the bankers at least, if not also the Treasury, the FSA and some politicians.
Whether or not we believe he should have lost his knighthood, let’s spare a him a few thoughts and a bit of sympathy, for two reasons. First he was not the only person to bear responsibility for the banking crisis – indeed we all bear some share of the blame given the level of personal debt in our own country. While it was not inappropriate for him to lose his ‘Sir’ others deserved it just as much. What about his boss the Chairman? What about those who failed in their regulatory responsibilities? And the politicians who egged RBS on to bask in the reflected glory of a global institution? Fred the Shred was certainly not the only one.
Second, this dishonour puts Fred Goodwin into some really bad company, such as Mussolini and Robert Mugabe. Is he really in the same category? Surely not. However, in my opinion the injustice here is not that the RBS former CEO was ‘sircumcised,’ but that other honourees, convicted criminals such as Lord Archer and Lord Taylor, have retained their status. It is a strange system that punishes knights by reducing them to plebs because of incompetence and greed, while excusing Barons who have been to gaol for their misdeeds. And it does nothing to inspire Scots to maintain the Union.