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Standard emerges bruised but wiser

There was no mistaking the venue for the day&#39s vote, even if you did arrive long before the “Welcome to the special general meeting” sign went up.

The pavement outside the Edinburgh International Conference centre was littered with a ragtag collection of about 50 souls – the usual media scrum, onlookers and a dozen or so registering policyholders. One woman capitalised on the crowd with a rattle can for a local dogs&#39 home.

The headlines had foretold Standard Life&#39s mutual future for days but carpetbagger-in-chief Fred Woollard refused to stay home and lick his wounds. He stood outside the hall meeting and greeting the media and the handful of policyholders.

One irate man, unconvinced by Woollard&#39s arguments, demanded angrily: “How can anyone gain if no one loses?” while the ringleader of the Mutual Alliance of Scotland held aloft a mocked-up giant return plane ticket to Nice.

Woollard told MM he will have a break now – unsurprising after a long fought contest in which he failed to win any prizes.

In the registration queue snaking around the EICC, one elderly lady told me she did not need her financial adviser to tell her to vote mutual. Her less forthcoming friend sought financial advice but did the opposite of what she was told. One IFA policyholder told MM: “You&#39d be off your trolley not to vote to stay mutual. I&#39m thinking of my children, not the short term.”

I looked for few more vox pops but Standard does not like this and two representatives close in on me and try to escort me to the press “holding bay”.

The SGM took place before a less than packed auditorium. It seems days of speculation have killed off the crowds, with less than 500 present. The board looked quietly confident but what happened over the next hour and a half must have left the victors bruised.

A great deal was said about communication. Many policyholders who took the microphone blasted Standard for the inordinate amount of money spent on an “uneven and biased campaign” amid claims it spent up to £10m. Many were livid, believing they had been misled about the benefits a “yes” vote would have brought.

One policyholder asked if the board could show him where the potential share dividends were mentioned in the campaign literature. When the board told the floor it did not have the material in front of them, shrieks of “That&#39s because you&#39re incompetent” rang round the hall.

But the board took the criticism on the chin. Towards the close of the final vote, chairman John Trott said: “We have learnt our lesson from this.”

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