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Sentiment and history

Brian Taylor | 12:41 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Confronted with tales of financial apocalypse - and political bickering - I find myself meandering towards Yeats.

At Holyrood, we are, mostly, mere observers: a status we share with the vast bulk of the populace. I expect the first minister may make a comment this afternoon on the condition of HBOS.

But most are frankly stunned - and only too aware that partisan politics can seem piffling by contrast.

Both the bank itself and expert commentators have taken pains to stress that HBOS is fundamentally sound, that it has been the victim of its perceived exposure to the housing market and, more, to short-selling by traders.

Sentiment and history play no part, I know, in the calculations which are under way as I write.

But remember what we are dealing with here. The Bank of Scotland (the BOS bit which merged with the Halifax) was founded in 1695 by an Act of the pre-Union Scots Parliament.

Disastrous expeditions

Its foundation coincided with the ultimately disastrous Darien expeditions, with efforts to expand Scottish trade in Europe, with famine and strain, with the pre-discussions which led eventually to Union.

In 1696, it became the first bank in Europe to issue paper currency. These distinctive notes were later to be defended by no less a figure than Sir Walter Scott as he fought off efforts to constrain the bank's right to produce paper bills.

Sir Walter's image is still on Bank of Scotland notes.

It has had a long and turbulent but successful history. Now it appears it is about to enter a new phase, beset by necessity, global turmoil and the onslaught of individual acquisitiveness.

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