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TSB branch closures – and in particular Bo’ness and Grangemouth

Every so often, there is a flurry of dismay as bank after bank reviews its local branch network and finds much of it unviable.

The Trustee Savings Bank was originally a mutual organisation and was jointly owned by those saving and borrowing. Its earliest principles: to encourage saving by ordinary people and overseen by trustees led to a much wider movement across the UK.

A significant change occurred in 1986 when the group was floated on the London Stock Exchange as part of Margaret Thatcher’s encouragement towards share ownership. In reality, the vast majority of ‘ordinary’ people who bought shares then sold them and it was then folded into the Lloyds Bank in 1995 who in turn sold it in 2009.

TSB failed to invest sufficiently in technology for a long time and had a major issue when it tried to migrate to a new platform after a further takeover by the Sabadell group in 2015. This was followed quickly by a further IT glitch in 2019.

It therefore has an urgent need to make savings and has led to plans to close many branches not just the one in Bo’ness.

This is not to provide an excuse for them – I have written numerous articles about how our entire financial system exists to serve the banks and government as businesses and not our society. For example: see recently

I am reflecting on the fact that the branch network itself is an out-of-date concept. The vast majority of people use online banking with the exception of the elderly such as my Father who will be 87 in a few weeks.

What does he use his branch for? He pays a visit as he gets to have a social chat with the tellers. He sometimes withdraws money, but he is capable of doing that via a ‘hole-in-the-wall’. If he needs to speak with someone, he will often use the telephone.

In other words – he can use a local post office that will provide the same function. He also sometimes goes into town for a coffee.

Local businesses who trade mostly in cash will want to use a local branch to deposit funds safely – but then let us look at how even traditionally cash-based businesses such as a taxi company are now predominately using card payments. Do we imagine for a minute that post-Covid will see a return to cash in the same way?

It is too simple to simply deplore bank branch closures, ask for a meeting with the local public affairs representative as the likelihood is that the closure will take place regardless. This minimal action of course must be done – but we also need to consider the wider issues.

We need to look at CAUSE and not just EFFECT. The cause is that the current banking system is run as a business where profit is the primary driver with some limited attempts to meet the needs of consumers. The EFFECT is that as a result they seek to close branches.

Rather, we need to be looking at how we have passively accepted the fact that our society exists to serve banks. We have a chronic issue with our financial system in the UK and the City of London is now known as one of the world’s major money laundering locations. The withdrawal from the European Union ensures that regulation will become considerably weaker.

I previously wrote about how we should set up a Scottish retail bank based on mutual concepts – where it exists to serve both its savers and investors. We have to accept that regulation will still be undertaken by the weak bodies put in place by the UK Government – but doing nothing to support our societies, our local small business that are the backbone of our communities is no longer acceptable. This is exactly the sort of idea I want to promote for the benefit of Scotland in our national parliament.

We also need to reimagine our places – the old concept of the high street has changed. I will be writing further about this as I undergo my campaign for selection.

We are in the business of change. We need people who can help develop national strategic policies that will serve us now and into independence.

Forward FE

It’s time for the Falkirk East Yes campaign to re-start.
Across Scotland, there is mutual wariness from elements of the SNP and the Yes movement; yet most agree that they fulfil a different, complimentary purpose.
The SNP remains the primary political route with its current support suggesting a majority in 2021.
Some elements of the Yes campaign are frustrated and point to the fact that an increase in SNP Holyrood seats does not necessarily translate into a renewed drive for independence.
The current electoral system where power devolved is power retained has been shown to be the sham it always was as Westminster rides roughshod over the Scottish Parliament with the internal market bill.
I would argue that we need both the SNP and the Yes campaign.
The SNP’s raison d’etre is independence and the betterment of Scotland. However, the winds of the electoral cycle frequently buffet these ideals. With Government comes responsibility including general policymaking.
The Yes campaign simply seeks independence. It can remove itself from the minutiae of today and campaign on simple yet constant ideals.
Think of the Martin Luther King "I have a dream" speech. He certainly didn’t say "I have the concept of additional borrowing powers where we can bring down our debt in a manageable way".
The grand themes of the 2014 Yes campaign were a constant and still resonate:
1. Democracy: we get the governments we vote for taking decisions for and behalf of Scotland
2. Fairness: we can make Scotland’s resources work better for everyone to create the sort of society we want to see
3. Confidence: we could be independent, and we should choose to create the future we want
The choice of two futures is still relevant and more than ever we should articulate a vision where we make our choices instead of having them foisted on us.
I am reminded of the ‘Forward Shop’ based in Stenhousemuir until 2 or 3 years ago. Not only was it a place where the ‘soft no’ voters could engage in conversation, it was also a community hub and strategically placed between Falkirk East and Falkirk West. I hear the baking was a real incentive to pay a visit and - that must have enticed regular visits from Martyn Day MP!
It’s time to create a new community hub; a place where independence supporters can meet with those who are uncertain. We can build relationships, inform, educate, hold events; be it political or even musical.
Remember how the Yes campaign stressed that trust was such an important factor in persuading people to vote yes? People are much more likely to be convinced by their friend, neighbour or relative speaking their language and making the argument relevant to their home place.
These convincer strategies work best where people feel 'engaged with' rather than 'talked at'.
This was always about our voices being heard: the rich, resonant, reflections of a nation moving forward.
I continue to be a regular speaker at the Edinburgh Yes hub even though I moved out of Edinburgh early in 2020.
There are multiple Yes events being undertaken and virtual hubs being re-established.
I have a greater sense of urgency than I have ever had to play my part in moving Scotland forward - in seeking selection for the SNP in Falkirk East and in participating in multiple Yes events.
We can and must do both.

Michelle Nicola

Firstly – please keep sharing this update to your contacts. Our inability to meet in large groups or via Zoom mean that it is vital we use social media as much as possible.  I NEED YOUR HELP TO DO THAT!

Secondly – thanks to those that have connected with me on Facebook.

What have I been up to?

I think I caused a bit of a stushie by writing my wee blog “The Truth about Hustings for Falkirk East” – if you haven’t seen it yet you can read it here:

I understand that branches plan to hold ‘meet the candidate events’ as soon as a) all candidates known whether or not they have passed vetting (I was notified as having passed on 02/09/2020) and b) after 09/10/2020 when we will know if the NEC plan to place any other candidates in the constituency.

Therefore, between 10/10/2020 and 27/10/2020 there will be a slot for local branches.

I submitted my 350 words that will be sent out via the branch mailer to all members.


Last week I had meetings with members in Bo’ness, Blackness and several in Grangemouth.

I have to say I find them illuminating and humbling – I find the honesty of the local members is completely refreshing. I am getting clear sense of what your priorities are and what you are seeking from your MSP.

I shall also have to limit the chocolate biscuits – everyone I meet is of the impression that I must be fed with copious amounts of food – I understand a certain Martyn Day MP has set a precedent!

(The pizza in the Corbie Inn is magnificent though!).

I was the guest speaker of Independence Live hosted by Valerie Gauld and Marlene Halliday on their daytime show. You can hear what I have to say about Falkirk East and the rest here:

I also had a meeting with Dick Winchester. He is a member of the Scottish Government Energy Advisory Board and also writes for Energy Voice. We discussed INEOS and some of the challenges for the various businesses contained within the group. Decarbonisation of the site is of course important – but the question also needs to be asked to what extent it can genuinely move to more sustainable products.

The Internal Market Bill continues to cause huge concern – and thanks to SNP MPs Alison Thewliss and Neale Hanvey for highlighting that it could result fracking being authorised against the will of Scotland:

Thank you to the members of Tryst branch for your excellent questions – I understand my answers will be getting sent to you after 10/10/2020.

Finally – please advise me if there is any group that I should be a member on social media.

Winning candidate

“We are being told that we are not allowed to hold branch hustings” – said a branch member in a recent meeting I had.

Despite CA office-bearers best efforts, sometimes confusion in messages can occur. I therefore it would be useful for members in Tryst, Grangemouth, Bo’ness and Braes to be clear that this is absolutely not true.  

 SNP HQ has set out the process that should be followed. The process sets out the obligations on candidates and constituency associations.

What is true?

  • The hustings must be online.
  • There must be a minimum of one meeting organised by the constituency association.
  • This meeting must take place between Tuesday 27 October 2020 and Monday 02 November 2020.

However, there is nothing at all to stop local branches organising their own (online) ‘meet the candidate’ events.

Let us remind ourselves of the value of hustings. The definition is simply “a meeting at which candidates in an election address potential voters”. That is the meaning – but what is the value? The value is that you learn a great deal about a prospective candidate that you cannot glean in other ways such as written text.

There is quite simply nothing better than seeing ‘the cut of their jib’.

You fundamentally get a sense of the following:

  • To what extent does the candidate motivate and inspire you?
  • How experienced are they?
  • How knowledgeable are they?
  • How do they respond when they do not know – do they pretend to know or are they honest?
  • Their communication style: - Is it dry and factual? Do they use analogies to illustrate a point? Are the analogies meaningful to you? Do they have a sense of humour?
  • How prepared are they – in other words have they taken that basic courtesy of learning about what matters to you?
  • And perhaps the most important of all – could you trust them to speak for you?

I am a strong believer in the power of local democracy. Our branches MUST have the chance to meet their candidates. I understand that it will take some organisation to support local members who are less comfortable with technology – but this is what must be done if we are to hear the voices of local branch members.

I have no concerns about the time this will involve for me and consider it a fundamental matter of respect for you.  

I will today be writing to all the branch convenors to indicate my willingness to address a branch meeting. I, of course, understand that this courtesy will be extended to all other candidates – and rightly so.

trustToday I received an endorsement from the MSP for Clydebank & Milngavie, Gil Paterson. It said:

“I recall Michelle campaigning for me as a young student. She is someone I trust as a committed and dedicated campaigner for independence. I really hope she is selected to represent Falkirk East as she would be a real asset to the Scottish Parliament”

 It is lovely to get these endorsements and I will be posting up multiple ones, most importantly from branch members as we progress through the campaign.

The most important word used by Gil was ‘trust’. Trust is the single most important commodity we have. Learning to trust develops early in human beings and it is extremely difficult to replace if it is lost. I was delighted that Gil said he trusted me and further qualified it by noting he has known about me campaigning for the SNP since I was a student which was around 38 years ago.

It is not enough to claim to be trustworthy: this must be demonstrated by consistent behaviour over time.

The role of an elected member is extremely complex. Always juggling multiple priorities, there are no circumstances where all of the people will be happy all of the time. An elected member must be a leader and communicate as such.

Where there is a lack of trust is often where there has been a lack of communication. Communication is tiring and time-consuming – but absolutely essential to bring people with you. It requires honesty and mutual respect. We all understand that difficult decisions must be made – but the rationale for them should be set out, ideally on a personal basis. For SNP members this must mean attendance at branch meetings.

I have had considerable experience in communicating changes and issues throughout my business life. The last change programme I ran in a corporate setting impacted 86,000 staff. I always bore in mind that change is delivered ‘through’ people and not ‘to’ people.

I cannot be clear as to what exactly Gil meant in using the word ‘trust’ in his endorsement – but the use of this word, rather than the fact he is one of Scotland’s longest serving parliamentarians is worth its weight in gold.

Thanks Gil.

Yes 2014

I had another busy week spanning both national and local considerations.

I was the guest speaker at Aberdeen Independence Movement (AIM) early in the week. I enjoyed catching up with the former MSP and MEP Christian Allard – he indulges my attempts at French and corrects me with weary patience!

I was asked to write a blog for the website of former MP Roger Mullin. I chose to write about our financial system and choices we can make. There is much more we could and should be doing:

I also wrote an article for IScot magazine – I announce the launch of the next Momentous Change project – this will be a very exciting piece of work on a national scale. The article will be out around mid-October.

I had 2 trips last week – to Slamannan for a chat about some of the local issues such as replacement heating in off-gas areas, and waste issues. We also discussed flooding with existing problems caused by a single combined water and sewerage pipe and also with local burns and water courses. Scottish Water will have their part to play in future investment.  Aged infrastructure and complex supply chains are all contributory factors and I believe the Scottish Government will need to further revisit their flood risk management strategies as the effects of climate change are felt more frequently.

I noticed that Bo’ness Recreation centre was still shut. This is a really important local resource. The updates from Falkirk Community Trust did not make clear what the plans were. I think most people understand there is a great deal of preparation required to re-open resources particularly as the Covid-19 ‘R’ number moves upwards – but there were no parameters explained as to how the decision would be made.

I was also back once more to Grangemouth and am building up my network of key connections across the community – people really appreciate the confidential nature of meetings. They can be open and honest about some of the issues they see. Putting effort into building relationships based on trust and mutual respect always yields dividends.

I noted an article in Business Insider concerning the arrival of 6 purpose-built fermentation vessels for Celtic renewables at Grangemouth. These are intended for Scotland’s first biorefinery and are intended to produce around 500,000 litres of Biobutanol biofuel. I offered a “cautious welcome” noting that the world was slowly adopting battery or hydrogen fuel cells which produce no greenhouse gases. However, I am looking forward to hearing more and understanding the detailed strategy.

The 18th September saw another anniversary of the first independence referendum. I posted a picture of the former First Minister, me and various other business leaders prior to the vote.  My reaction to each anniversary is one of increased determination not stoic acceptance. I made the point that many people would now vote yes having previously voted no. English votes for English laws (EVEL), Brexit, the power grab and the complete disregard for the rule of law have all made a difference. So too has the handling of the Covid-19 crisis – contrast the shambolic U-turns offered by Boris Johnson and compare it to the calm efficiency and excellent communication offered by Nicola Sturgeon.

In the national news my great concern has been the so-called internal Market Bill. This is a significant risk to the continued operation of the Scottish Parliament. For example, section 32 gives a Tory Government the power to refer legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament to a UK Government Department. This is an affront to our democracy. Only today we learn that the proposals could lead to lower standards in our buildings that could have led to similar issues such as with the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Read more here:

Finally – please RETWEET and SHARE these updates.

I have had a varied and interesting set of meetings this week.

Some must remain entirely confidential – but what I can say is that I have been heartened by the honesty I have been shown. People really want to start moving forward and engage with me. They are looking for a fresh perspective that can challenge the ‘way things have always been done’.

I would like to highlight a few areas.

You may have seen the kind tweet from Alex Fleming who will be known to many of you from the Falkirk Business Improvement District (BID). She, and others are setting up a new charity and Community Interest Company called ‘4 the benefit of all’. It will be based in Grangemouth and they are developing the key support services such as learning, well-being, employability and business-focussed tourism. This latter area is in particular worthy of further development and discussion.

Alex was pleased to hear about the extent of my existing relationships with senior figures who could help her develop her proposition further. It clearly has the possibility of growing into many other locations in Scotland. On 08/09/2020 she tweeted:

“As we work to get our Impact Centre open in Grangemouth and listen to what those in the area would like us to focus on, I had a great chat today with @MichelleThomson about the issues and opportunities for business and the wider community around Grangemouth. Thanks Michelle”

I had some great questions about what specifically I would intend to do to address the inequality in local Council spend between Falkirk West and east of Falkirk across the constituency.

We know this has been an historic grievance over many years. Although some great work has been done to develop the town centre and other areas there is the perception that east of Falkirk has received less. I have been in touch with the Chief Statistician for Scotland to find out the exact details of what has been spent over the last few years.  

There must be a delicate balancing act of what we call a push and pull strategy. The push part of it requires a strong voice who can analyse the issues, set them out clearly and challenge what has been done thus far based on real evidence. The pull strategy must be one of working together and persuading others to one’s point of view. Clearly both will be required, and an active role undertaken. There are also other ways of influencing by involving key stakeholders and ensuring they also make their voices heard. Consideration could be given to ensuring the proposed new 5-star hotel is located in the constituency known as Falkirk East.

Tourism should be developed and enhanced in a number of areas. The rich historic traditions and sites such as Airth Castle and the remarkable views of Blackness and Bo’ness offer ready appeal if a compelling plan can be developed.

Scotland has the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) outside London and the South East of England. I have been asked to outline some steps I would take to increase FDI into the constituency. The Scottish Government, under the auspices of Ivan McKee the Minister for Trade, Investment & Innovation is currently developing the Scottish Government strategy for FDI. You may have noticed the very favourable endorsement he gave me for my campaign. I have ensured I have an invite to the launch of this strategy and can directly map the key elements of it to the benefit of various areas in Falkirk East.

I also posted up a bit more information about who I am, my background and some emerging of Falkirk East – you can check these earlier posts out on my Facebook page.


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