Scottish independence is WPP’s new “grey swan” threat

Marion Dakers
Source: Lee J Haywood

The “grey swans”, or known unknowns, are a regular feature of WPP’s results statements. Sir Martin Sorrell’s advertising outfit said today that most of the recent global swans are becoming whiter, as Chinese fragility and the prospects for the Middle East become less of a worry.

But the Scottish referendum has made an appearance as a “grey swan” concern, with WPP warning that the looming vote is adding “further uncertainty to the United Kingdom economy” and in turn its clients, compounded by the political wrangling over an EU in-out referendum.

Standard Life revealed today that its contingency plan for Scottish independence includes moving offices and staff south of the border to try and shield investors from the uncertainties of Holyrood rule.

The plans have distant echoes of WPP’s decision to move to Dublin in protest at the British corporate tax system 2008, before moving back to UK shores in 2013.

“Alex Salmond is a very strong communicator, as is Nigel Farage. Both are populists and both are popular in times of economic uncertainty,” Sorrell told City A.M. “All these things encourage uncertainty and a lot of people are concerned… [Standard Life] must be the first of many.”

Sir Martin said when it comes to the Scottish vote, “I would like to see them stay, but that’s up to them.”

His comments came as WPP posted a 6.2 per cent rise in annual revenues to £11bn, helped by a string of acquisitions and new client wins, though tough pricing competition has prompted the firm to warn margins will be lower than expected in 2014.