Ethics Man

04/03/2009
FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE

Comrades, let us hail Sir Fred Goodwin, Hero of the Struggle of the Proletariat. The man has done more to advance the People's Revolutionary Aspirations than all the posters of Che Guevara combined.

It is a long time since someone who is not a child molester, politician, serial killer, people of that stamp, has received so much, and so widespread, public condemnation in Britain. He has achieved what many thought impossible, he has united every political party. Nobody has achieved that since Adolf Hitler.

A few months ago, Goodwin was unknown to the general public, now he is the butt of cartoons and comedians, and the subject of yards of newsprint. After leading RBS to the largest corporate loss in British history, he will receive a pension of 693,000 per year. Commentators have gone on for years about corporate greed, but this is the final straw.

Had RBS been allowed to slide into bankruptcy, Goodwin's total package would have been 20,000. The bank would have also been relieved of sponsorship deals. Every time we see a Williams we will be reminded of RBS's profligacy. It would actually be better for the bank's image to remove its livery from the cars, while fulfilling its financial obligations.

Some sections of the press are taking a hard look at RBS's 200 million sports sponsorship deals. One of Goodwin's childhood heroes was Jackie Stewart and Goodwin directed 4 million of shareholders' money so that Stewart could advise on F1 sponsorship. Directing the money to Williams was a no-brainer. A British bank could hardly sponsor, say, Toyota, and some other teams already had banks on board.

Sir Jackie was first off the starting blocks to have a go at Max Mosley for being caught with his pants down, in one of his own homes, with consensual adults. Jackie had things to say about sponsors shying away from motor sport, though he did not have a single fact to support him.

I hazard to suggest that a greater offence than Max spending his own money on hookers, is a CEO spending other peoples' money so that he can live his childhood fantasies, but that is what Fred Goodwin did. Jackie became Goodwin's new best friend so I do not expect Stewart to express an opinion on Goodwin, besides, he has sold his right to do that.

Jackie Stewart used to bang on about 'ethical sponsorship' as though tobacco companies were demons in disguise and banks veered towards holiness. At least tobacco companies are open about their business. RBS was presenting an image of responsibility while Fred Goodwin was spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

Jackie might consider his image. He is on four million a year, I read, for glad-handing people, and that is nice work if you can get it. That money is now coming from the tax payer and I am sure that teachers, nurses, firefighters and other inconsequential people, are thrilled to be putting money in his sporran.

The tennis player, Andy Murray, has agreed to take a cut in sponsorship. I am sure that he will not go without shoes on his feet and meat on his table, but it is an appropriate gesture.

Stewart earns money from his image and he is in danger of seeing his image besmirched. Yes, he has a contract, but so does Andy Murray and he is not linked to a cash-devouring F1 team. Most of us could buy the same kit that Murray uses, it is his talent that makes the difference and his talent is current. Murray is winning matches today, not 35 years ago.

Andy, not a great favourite with the media as a personality, now appears to be a man who, when the chips are down, is prepared to do his bit. In real terms it is insignificant, but it is a major coup in PR terms. Stewart is beginning to look like a sleazy money-grabber sticking to his contract as though nothing had changed. He always has been a money-grabber, ask the guys at Ford, but now it is out in the open.

Up to 25,000 employees of RBS are about to lose their jobs and multi-millionaire Stewart, for many years a tax exile, has shown himself to be utterly insensitive. He could have announced a voluntary cut and then become positive, talking about rebuilding for the future.

Volunteering to take a cut in pay would not harm his already massive fortune. It would not save any branches from closure, but it would have been a gesture. It would have been seen that the wee man was fighting, not for money, but for pride. Pride for himself and pride for his nation. Stewart is now seen as the creature of the man being dubbed 'the World's Worst Banker.'

I'd love to know how Stewart reckons he can continue to be an ambassador for a failed bank when his own retainer is under fire in the press and the whole saga will run and run. Nothing exercises the press like a figure of hate.

Stewart can hardly speak about traditional Scotch values like prudence and thrift. He cannot point to competence. He is now seen as Mr Greedy, yet here is someone quick to spout about morality and ethics.

I admired Stewart as a driver and admired him even more as a campaigner for safety in motor racing. He has promoted charitable causes and all in all been a fine ambassador for both motor racing and Scotland. I fear he may have blown much of the goodwill he has built up though greed.

Another of Goodwin's great heroes is Jack Nicklaus so guess who also got sponsorship deals from RBS? In Goodwin's office, according to The Sunday Times, were not pictures of the macmissus, or the bairns, but there was a photograph of Sir Fred with Jack Nicklaus, another new best friend.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was founded in 1727 and is one of three banks on mainland Britain, apart from the Bank of England, which is permitted to issue its own bank notes. In essence, it can print an RBS banknote provided it tears up a Bank of England note. These notes circulate mainly north of Hadrian's Wall (the largest construction undertaken by the Roman Empire, in order to define the boundary of civilisation) though they are legal tender anywhere, in theory.

In nearly three hundred years, only three people have appeared on the back of an RBS note. The first was the late Queen Mother, who was both Scotch and royal by marriage. The second was our present queen, who is half Scotch (half-German) and royal by birth.

The third was Jack Nicklaus. Not James Watt, not Rabbie Burns, not Adam Smith, not Sir Joseph Lister, but Jack Nicklaus.

Apart from the fact that Nicklaus has no discernable links to Scotland, his name is used as a brand. He markets clothing, golf bats, golf courses and promotes resorts in Spain. The RBS five pound note was an advertisement for a purveyor of products and was issued in 2005 on Fred Goodwin's watch. As well as the millions Nicklaus is paid to be an 'ambassador', RBS printed two million advertisements for which collectors will pay many times more than the face value.

Apparently, the excuse was to commemorate Nicklaus's last competitive appearance at St. Andrews in the Open Golf Tournament. I am not sure how significant an event in Scotch history this was. Even Mel 'Braveheart' Gibson would have problems with that one.

Goodwin led the bank to the brink of collapse because of his arrogance, ambition and incompetence. Scotland is a small country which often fights above its weight. Goodwin wanted the RBS to mix with the really big boys and, for a short time, on paper, McEnron became really big. Unfortunately, it was all on paper.

Dietrich Mateschitz spends a considerable amount of money on motor racing, but it is his money to spend. As well as motor racing, Red Bull promotes other white knuckle sports and generates many hours of highly entertaining television. Mateschitz has chosen to promote his product this way rather than taking out ads in papers. I bet he has a ball and I do not begrudge him a moment's pleasure.

The difference is that he owns 49% of the company and in a little over twenty years has created a new market. Other companies have tried to muscle in, but they are all destined to be Red Bull wannabees. I've tried a number and did not like any, but the only brand I can recall is Red Bull. The product is not to my taste, but I associate it with fun and excitement. Fine through they are, these are not qualities I look for in a bank.

When Max poked fun at Jackie's tartan trews, I thought it unfair though they do look pretty silly. Max missed the main point which is that the 'Stewart Hunting Tartan', like all clan tartans, is fake. The clan tartan industry dates from 1819 and an enterprising salesman. The Highland clan system had effectively ended two generations before, but the idea suited the mood of the day, the Romantic movement was at its height. Standardised tartan was possible only because of the Industrial Revolution, when mills replaced cottage industry.

The Scotch have a traditional dress because all traditional dress is early 19th Century peasant garb given a gloss by the Romantics. Traditional food, like snails in France and haggis in Scotland, likewise is peasant food, riff-raff sources of protein.

Before any oateaters get upset about my use of 'Scotch', instead of 'Scots' or 'Scottish' (both acceptable alternatives), I would point out that it is perfectly good English and I am an Englishman using my language. It does not behove foreigners to tell me how to decline adjectives. I do not express opinions about Gaelic.

Mike Lawrence
mike@pitpass.com

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Published: 04/03/2009
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