Leaders: Time to squeeze oil out of the independence debate
AS A SLOGAN – they did not call them soundbites in those days – the Scottish National Party’s cry of “It’s Scotland’s oil” is one of the most enduring contributions to political campaigning there has ever been.
Its brevity and salience, from a nationalist point of view, have resulted in it being quoted to this day. It remains a fundamental part of the SNP’s case for independence. Rarely does a day go by without nationalists, from the First Minister down, citing the huge benefits which would flow to an independent Scotland of having control over the large deposits of “black gold” which still lie off our shores.
However, a report published yesterday by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), set up by the Westminster government to provide independent forecasts of the state’s finances, cast doubt on this nationalist optimism, warning that price volatility had forced it to revise down the contribution oil and gas would make the UK’s GDP to 0.05 per cent by 2040-41. This has potentially serious consequences for Scotland. If Holyrood had responsibility over oil and gas now the revenue coming to a Scottish Treasury in 2011-12 would amount to 0.7 per cent of our GDP, the equivalent of £11.2 billion.
Yesterday’s report says this would fall to 0.05 per cent of GDP by 2040-41, the equivalent of £2.9bn. That compares to the estimate in last year’s report which suggested the figure would only fall to 0.1 per cent of GDP, the equivalent of £5.7bn.
Yesterday’s figures produced a flurry of claim and counter-claim from nationalist and unionist. Scottish Secretary Michael Moore warned they showed the risk of a small independent country depending too heavily on one commodity to balance its books. Alex Salmond denounced Mr Moore’s claims as “the same old scaremongering” from Westminster governments. For the ordinary voter, who will soon have to make up his or her mind on independence, such exchanges are depressingly predictable and of little help to establishing the facts.
It is to be hoped that before the referendum we will have more factual information upon which we can base our decision, but there is another, perhaps heretical, way this issue might be looked at. It is this: whisper it in the land where oil has been at the heart of the political battle for decades, but is not really that important to the debate.
The truth is that crude oil prices rise and fall. We know that now. And we know that makes long-term predications very difficult, or almost impossible. The only thing we can predict with confidence is that the OBR may well come back next year and revise its figures upwards.
Given this, it is time to grasp a prickly political thistle and admit that, compared to issues which effect independence like the currency, defence, and social security, the role of oil in the constitutional debate is not as significant as we once thought, if indeed it ever was.
Athletes carry torch of emancipation
It’s been a long time coming but, like those other great moments in the history of the advancement of human rights, we knew this change was going to come. Eventually.
Yesterday it was announced that, for the first time, Saudi Arabia will send female athletes to the Olympic Games. Sarah Attar will compete in the 800m and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in the judo competition.
The Saudi decision, arrived at after delicate negotiations involving the International Olympic Committee, means that London 2012 will be first games in which all the competing nations enter female athletes.
Although the religious conservatives in Saudi Arabia, and some other Muslim countries, will be aghast at this news, most people will see it as a positive step forward and one with implications beyond sport.
Naturally, the women competitors themselves are keen to emphasise this is about being given the opportunity to test themselves against the best athletes in the world. That in itself is important.
However, the fact that the Saudis will be joined by female athletes from Qatar and Brunei demonstrates to the world these nations’ attitudes to women are changing – very slowly, very gradually – for the better.
It would be a mistake to see this development, welcome though it is, as marking the end of the battle for female emancipation in the Muslim world. It is a small, long overdue, step in that direction.
But there is no doubt these pioneering athletes have advanced the cause of women in the Islamic world. We are confident more change is going to come.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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