THE SIGNET LIBRARY, like the rest of Parliament Square, is used to the grandeur of royal and state occasions. On Wednesday this week, the UK’s other Parliament Square – in London – saw what the media called a “dressed-down” Queen’s speech, with Parliament returning after the general election to slightly less pomp and circumstance than usual. Although the atmosphere was more febrile than is normal for such a traditional ritual, veteran Labour MP and staunch republican Dennis Skinner didn’t miss his chance to insult Black Rod on arrival to summon members of the House of Commons to the House of Lords. “Get yer skates on, first race is at half past two” (a reference to the Queen’s other engagement of the day at Royal Ascot), was heard in the silent chamber as MPs prepared to depart. The grin on Black Rod’s face suggested he took it all with good humour, perhaps reflecting he himself got off lightly this year: on a previous occasion Skinner had greeted his arrival amongst MP’s by scoffing, “Here comes Puss in Boots”.
AS INSULTS GO Skinner’s brings to mind the story of the Edinburgh bus driver and the Archer – or, to be more precise, one of The Royal Company of Archers, The Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland. Some years ago, one member of this ancient body was making his way to the annual parade outside the Signet Library, which takes place before the Knights of the Thistle ceremony in St Giles. Resplendent in the uniform of the ceremonial unit – including Highland cap with thistle ornament and eagle feathers, sword, bow and arrow – said gentleman, worried he was running late, attempted to board a rapidly overcrowding Lothian Bus alongside crowds of tourists. The irate driver left his seat to clear the surplus passengers off his vehicle – “That means you too, Robin Hood”.
NINE YEARS after the financial crisis, the beginning of this week saw the first arrests in the UK of any senior financial executives for their role in the crash. Ironically, in this case the bank in question was Barclays, one of the few to not accept a government bailout. Several senior figures, including Chief Executive John Varley, and the bank, have been charged with fraud by the Serious Fruad Office. Amongst the charges is one of criminal financial assistance. The SFO said the charges related to the two fundraisings the bank embarked on in June and October 2008 with two investment vehicles related to Qatar, including one used by the prime minister at the time, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, and a $3bn (£2.3bn) loan advanced to Qatar in November 2008.
THE INDIVIDALS AND a bank representative are scheduled to appear at Westminster magistrates’ court on 3 July. At least two have already said they will contest the charges. The charging decision has been postponed on a number of occasions, initially to the end of March, then the end of May and then to mid-June, and comes as the SFO faces abolition under plans set out in the Conservative election manifesto. Legal experts will be watching closely, not least the Crown Office in Scotland who lost a high profile case against Craig Whyte when a jury acquitted Whyte on all charges, including unlawful financial assistance under the Companies Act. Whyte had allegedly used money from the sale of season tickets to Ticketus to purchase Rangers. The Barclays case will potentially raise the profile financial assistance as an issue. The offence is there to prevent the assets of a public company being used to enrich third parties at the expense of shareholders, creditors, employees and other stakeholders.
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