'Fred Goodwin absolutely loved it': Ian Fraser on how an Andrew Wilson RBS 'factsheet' shows why he was the wrong person to write the Growth Commission

Andrew Wilson was congratulated by Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin for an RBS ‘factsheet’ in 2007 that would later be described by Fraser as “a most extraordinarily hubristic and bombastic document”

  • Speaking in Edinburgh, Ian Fraser told CommonSpace Andrew Wilson was “definitely not” the right person to write the Sustainable Growth Commission report
  • Fraser has previously criticised a 2007 ‘factsheet’ written by Wilson on behalf of RBS as “extraordinarily hubristic”
  • Ian Fraser’s book Shredded details the circumstances leading up to the collapse of RBS and the failure of the UK Government to reform it after the 2008 financial crisis

ANDREW WILSON was “definitely not” the right person to write the economic prospectus for an independent Scotland, according to an award-winning financial journalist who has researched his time working at RBS under the now notorious Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin.

Speaking at the Edinburgh launch of the new edition of his acclaimed book Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke the World on Wednesday [15 May], Ian Fraser reflected on the past record of Wilson – a former MSP, SNP finance spokesperson and chairman of the Sustainable Growth Commission – who once worked for RBS as senior communications executive and deputy chief economist under Goodwin.

In March 2007, four months before the subprime-related credit crisis which would herald a global recession and 18 months before RBS collapsed and required a £45.5 billion taxpayer-funded bailout, RBS released to press a ‘Factsheet’ compiled by Wilson, which boasted that RBS was, by market capitalisation, “bigger than Sony and Apple combined; We make more profit from the US than McDonalds do globally; our European profits are equivalent to the global profits of Volkswagen.”

Fraser has previously described the pamphlet as “a most extraordinarily hubristic and bombastic document”, but said that at the time it “worked”, as there were “fewer criticisms of RBS’s level of profitability that year, something that must have warmed the cockles of Goodwin’s heart as he plotted further global domination through the (ultimately disastrous) takeover of ABN Amro.”

READ MORE: Book Review: Shredded - Inside RBS, the bank that broke Britain

“It was one of the few times Fred ever congratulated anyone in media relations for anything,” one ex-RBS insider told Fraser. “He was delighted with that document. [Wilson] got a lot of kudos”.

Fraser was asked by CommonSpace if he felt that Wilson was the right person to head up the Sustainable Growth Commission, which was tasked by Nicola Sturgeon with developing the SNP’s new economic case for Scottish independence. Fraser replied: “Definitely not.”

He continued: “When he [Wilson] actually wrote that thing in ‘06, the factsheet, the most hubristic document I think I’ve ever read in my entire life… Fred Goodwin absolutely loved it. But my short answer is no, he was not the person to write that report. I don’t think he’s been particularly adventurous.”

Speaking to CommonSpace following the book launch, Fraser added: “I would say I’m not convinced he’s the right person to be the chairman of the Sustainable Growth Commission because, even though he worked as an economist at RBS, economics does not seem to be his main area of work. He was basically a PR man as well as being an economist, and that seemed to be what he mainly focused on.

READ MORE: Ian Fraser: The Growth Commission's banking regulation proposals miss an opportunity to give finance a social purpose

“He doesn’t really think outside the box, in terms of ways of transforming the Scottish economy post-independence. His entire approach is not frightening the horses – as in, you don’t want to be too radical, because if you are, you will scare away a lot of existing large players. For example, if you totally rewrite financial regulation, you’ll scare away Financial Life Aberdeen, you’ll scare away Bailey Gifford, you’ll scare away a lot of very sizeable players in fund management who are critical to Edinburgh’s economy. So, I can see he’s taken a pragmatic view on a lot of issues, notably around currency and financial regulation.

“Often it is bluster – it’s far more complicated than it may seem to move a large operation. We saw that with the 1998 referendum; I believe a number of large financial institutions based in Edinburgh were making a lot of noise about how bad devolution was going to be, and in some instances threatening to move if there was devolution, which seemed to be absolute anathema to a lot of those players. Now, 20 years on, none of them would probably wish to see it undone. I think a similar kind of thing happened around the 1979 referendum. I think there’s obviously a fear of change, and that is something which I think Wilson has been quite determined to assuage with his report.”

Fraser’s book Shredded explores how RBS, under Goodwin, became a “rogue institution” which was given almost unlimited freedom from institutional investors, central bankers, regulars and then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, until its collapse following the September 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. The book also details the failure of successive UK Governments to successfully reform either RBS or the wider banking sector.

A motion to SNP spring conference in April based on the Growth Commission report was passed by members, but with an amendment to the currency section of the report which mandated the party to establish a Scottish currency “as soon as is practicable” after independence.

Picture courtesy of Kirtan Patel

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