DEAR readers, I present to you one of the latest knights of the land – Sir Antonio Mota De Sousa Horta-Osorio, lately chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Bank of Scotland. He receives his knighthood, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, for services to banking and finance and voluntary services to mental healthcare and culture.

Sir Antonio’s gong may come as a surprise to those of you who thought the banking crisis of 2008 – caused by the greed, corruption and serial incompetence of the City of London financial system – had banished forever the awarding of knighthoods to overpaid bank bosses. Especially as they keep having to hand them back after every fresh banking farrago. Witness former knights Fred Goodwin of RBS and James Crosby of HBOS (subsequently absorbed by Lloyds).

According to the 2020 Lloyds accounts, Sir Antonio pocketed an annual salary of £4.7 million. Personally, I consider such remuneration obscene and unnecessary. Did our new knight work twice as hard as he would have if he earned only £2.35m? I doubt it. I hope an independent Scotland imposes wage caps or tax thresholds that banish such absurd salary levels that are an insult to those living on the median Scottish (gross) weekly wage of £470.

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Why give Portuguese-born Sir Antonio a knighthood? Wasn’t the 2021 round of gong-giving meant to reward NHS staff and research scientists who had battled against the Covid pandemic? Why slip in a banker? Most of the gushing articles announcing the elevation of Sir Antonio cite the fact he steered Lloyds back to private ownership after it was bailed out by the government in 2009. Ergo, he got his reward for giving Lloyds back to private capitalism rather than making money for the taxpayer.

Lloyds Banking Group has a market capitalisation of circa £28 billion. Around 80% of the shares are owned by institutional investors, ie investment funds, pension funds and private equity groups. The biggest single block of shares is held by American-owned BlackRock (7.2%), the world’s biggest investment manager. Chicago-based Harris Associates LP is the second largest shareholder in Lloyds (6.8%).

So, Sir Antonio has handed Lloyds (including Bank of Scotland) over to American investors. An independent Scotland thus will find its entire retail banking system is foreign owned and domestic credit dictated from abroad.

But maybe Sir Antonio was an especially good boss. Only if you think that the cutting of th efficacious. When he made those cuts, Sir Antonio was the highest-paid CEO of a FTSE-listed company. It’s amazing what they give you knighthoods for. Queen Victoria even invented a special category of knighthood (the Star of India) to award those British officers and collaborationist maharajas who put down the Indian nationalist revolt of 1857. So maybe Sir Antonio’s gong should be seen as part of that tradition.

You’ll detect some venting of spleen in my writing. As an MP, I spent a long time fighting

Sir Antonio and the board and senior management at Lloyds, over their cover-up of corruption at the former HBOS unit in charge of small business loans. The Reading unit fell into the hands of people who used their position to bankrupt and loot hundreds of viable businesses. The perpetrators eventually went to jail, though no thanks to Lloyds, which was reluctant to seem them prosecuted lest it caused a scandal and lowered the share price.

Under pressure, Lloyds conducted an internal investigation into its handling of the fraud. Outrageously, it then fired the woman executive who conducted the investigation, in order to continue the cover-up. Eventually the bank had to admit her wrongful dismissal and pay her compensation. But the whole scandal still rumbles on.

Where is Sir Antonio now? He has been hired as the chair of Credit Suisse (the big Swiss investment bank) where he is now firefighting multiple scandals. Credit Suisse has just incurred $5bn in bad loans to Archegos, a very dodgy Asian-based investment fund.

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AS a result, a swath of senior Credit Suisse executives has been forced to resign, including the head of risk management. Next, it transpires the bank is up to its armpits in the Greensill farrago. With a leap and a bound Sir Antonio is back in Tory sleaze territory.

Readers may remember that former PM David Cameron was the PR front man for Greensill Capital, run by his eponymous mate Lex Greensill, an Aussie entrepreneur. This is the very same Lex Greensill who was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2017 for – don’t laugh – services to business. This was on the recommendation of … er, David Cameron.

Services to cronyism, greed and incompetence, more like. Greensill Capital went bust in April owing Credit Suisse $140m. Time will tell if Sir Antonio is any more energetic about investigating Greensill than he was pursuing the HBOS Reading fraud.

All of which is to say the British honours system remains as mired in back scratching and influence peddling as it ever was. The guff about celebrating Covid heroes and heroines is so much political camouflage to justify the Establishment rewarding itself.

For instance, another knighthood has just gone to Brexiteer billionaire William Adderley, who donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party (through his company WA Capital Ltd) at the time of the 2019 General Election.

Then there is Edinburgh’s very own Anne Helen Richards, who becomes a dame for “services to financial services”. I’m not sure why “services to financial services” merits an honour, but the bankers think it does. Dame Anne is chief exec of Fidelity International, a global company supplying investment management services to big mutual and pension funds as well as rich private clients.

Fidelity currently manages or administers around $300bn on behalf of clients, which makes Dame Anne one of the world’s most influential female capitalists.

So where does she invest the loot? Dame Anne hit the world’s headlines in December 2019 when she vigorously defended Fidelity’s investment in Hikvision. This is a Chinese high-tech company that provides surveillance cameras and equipment to the Chinese authorities used to monitor the Uyghur Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region. Hikvision was sanctioned by the Americans in late 2019, accused of abetting human rights violations.

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The current UK honours system may occasionally reward the deserving but the very act of associating those who really aid their fellow human beings with greedy bankers, political donors buying influence, or time-serving politicians, is nothing short of degrading.

If the honours system in the UK continues, it should be taken out of the hands of politicians and its nomenclature divorced from the trappings of a vile colonial empire that no longer exists.

As for an independent Scotland, its citizens may decide to keep a more democratic form of recognising deserving individual contributions to the community. Personally, I’m a bit reticent about importing any of the political junk bequeathed by our association with the UK state.

Reproducing a mini-UK in an independent Scotland might prove all too easy – cronyism and corruption included. We need to remember independence is not about preserving existing society and political structures. Instead, building a new nation should be a collective adventure in creating a better society. That should be reward enough.