Monday morning, no time for coffee. The week is off to a sprinting start already. Ray’s new book arrived in a cardboard box at the weekend. The Scotsman plan a feature this week and the Telegraph covered it yesterday. Anyone would think banks were big, bad news.
Hubris, How HBOS wrecked the best bank in Britain seems likely to grab a few more headlines than Ray’s first book – although I’m pleased to say The Man Who Gave Away His Island is selling out in paperback and will reprint in the new year.
The story of John Lorne Campbell of Canna is a gentler tale (though it deals with many unresolved issues in Scottish life – land ownership, sustainable agriculture and fishing policy). But banks have become a drama that touches all of us. Banks have ruined the economy and strangled the livelihoods of millions of innocent people. Each new report brings out more damning evidence and yet governments of all colours seem paralysed by fear which prevents them from taking effective action. Why let the men at the top pocket obscene bonuses? Why restrict ludicrous pay rises? They might go elsewhere?
Let them go.
I’m biased, I know, but I think Hubris gives a gripping account of what went wrong with the banking culture in the last decade. Ray also explains financial complexities that so many journalists – and politicians – do not understand. Which of course has a lot to do with the mess we are in. The book hammers out a simple message. Basically banks have to balance loans with deposits and as yesterday’s Telegraph reported Hubris pins the blame on the aggressive sales-driven culture that (already emerging in the Bank of Scotland era) blew in with gusto when HBOS threw every vestige of traditional Scottish banking caution out of the window. Along with it went 300 years of steady, principled management.
The story of HBOS is part of an unwinding global catastrophe with tragic consequences much closer to home as Scotland has lost not just a much respected national institution but a reputation for honesty, fairness and plain old fashioned good service.
But there are quite a few laughs too. And some surprising characters to colour the story. Just take a look under B in the index: Bonnie Prince Charlie, David Bowie and (er) Howard Brown.
Enough of this, Monday is racing ahead and there is the new Hubris Facebook page to nurture into existence. You’re welcome to join. And you can buy the book. Hubris: How HBOS wrecked the best bank in Britain is published by Birlinn, £20 hardback copy. Of course it was discounted on Amazon when it was still in the first proof. But that’s a different story.