Senior business figures warn that the exit plans are neither “bluff” nor “bluster”

With just five days of campaigning left a slew of firms – including Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, TSB, Clydesdale, Tesco Bank and Aegon – have dramatically revealed that they have plans to quit for England if Scotland votes Yes in favour of independence on September 18, reports The Telegraph.

An RBS statement released on Thursday morning said the bank had undertaken contingency planning as “material uncertainties” from a Scottish referendum vote “could have a bearing on the bank’s credit ratings”.

It said it “believes that it would be necessary to re-domicile the bank’s holding company and its primary rated operating entity to England”. In a message to staff, RBS’s chief executive Ross McEwan said this “is not an intention to move operations or jobs”.

Relocating will likely cost RBS and Lloyds £1bn each, according to Chirantan Barua, an analyst at Bernstein.

Shares in RBS jumped as investors greeted the news along with a Survation poll that showed the pro-Union campaign had retaken the lead with voters. The bank’s shares later lost some ground but nevertheless ended the day up 1.11pc at 346p. Standard Life, which spelled out its plans on Wednesday, similarly rallied yesterday, ending the day up 1.47pc at 413.4p.
Adrian Grace, the chief executive of Aegon, said the insurance company had no choice but to plan for a Yes vote: “This includes establishing a new registered life company in England to complement our existing Scottish and English registered companies. This means irrespective of any currency, regulatory or tax change we can continue to serve all our customers.”

Standard Life had on Wednesday been among the first financial companies to reassure customers and shareholders that it had the ability to move the billions of pounds in pension funds and savings to England if the company felt it was necessary.

However, the Edinburgh-based pensions giant went further than many others, refusing to rule out moving even in the event of a No vote next week: “If the referendum result is supportive of Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom, resulting in the devolution of further powers as seems likely, we will monitor any impact that this may have on our stakeholders and take whatever action we feel is required.”

Commenting on the news that many banks and financial firms had made plans to leave Scotland, Keith Cochrane, chief executive of the Weir Group, one of Scotland’s largest companies, said: “This is not bluff. This is not bluster. This is reality, not rhetoric. Companies do not make these announcements lightly.”

He added that all business leaders have a fiduciary duty to do what is best for their shareholders and that the referendum created “very real risks” which have the potential to damage Scotland’s economy.

“Weir will only continue to be based here if the business environment which has helped Weir grow into a truly global company continues to support our ambitions,” said Mr Cochrane. He said that, in the event of a Yes vote, Scottish businesses would need quick answer to issues around currency, taxation and Scotland’s membership of the European Union.

He said: “It is simply unfair to leave businesses in the dark for many months; unable to invest in new opportunities, unable to hire new staff and perhaps ultimately unable to view Scotland as a competitive home for our businesses.

“On a purely personal level, I am deeply worried for my country.”

Mr Cochrane said he will be voting No next Thursday.

The business community has become an important battleground in the last stages of the independence debate. Last month, more than 130 business leaders with Scottish operations signed an open letter, in which they said the case for independence had “not been made” and that they would prefer Scotland to “keep flourishing” as part of the UK.

More than 200 pro-Scottish independence business figures hit back with a letter in the Herald newspaper.