THE governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, yesterday spelled out the grave implications for Scotland of the falling price of oil.
As Brent crude continued to trade at below $50 a barrel, Mr Carney described the situation as a “negative shock” to the Scottish economy, which would take a substantial hit from the fall.
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Appearing before MPs at the Treasury select committee, the governor said that the Bank had not calculated a figure for that hit but there have been estimates of a drop in Scotland’s GDP of as much as £6 billion.
Mr Carney went on to suggest that the more general impact across the UK as a whole would be a positive one, with the benefits of falling petrol prices and lower costs of production putting more money into consumers’ pockets and making goods cheaper.
The reality of the oil crisis, then, would appear to be that it is good for the UK yet bad for Scotland.
Nationalists will, of course, argue that this analysis reinforces the need for power to be in Scottish hands so that government policy can reflect Scottish concerns, while their pro-UK opponents will say the crisis shows how important a No vote was.
But while arguments rage, there is a real, here-and-now problem to be addressed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday in Aberdeen of a thoughtful package of measures to address the oil price crisis is to be welcomed.
The plummeting cost of Brent crude has potentially grave implications for a huge Scottish industry, and political leadership is required.
Ms Sturgeon has created a task- force – including representatives from the industry and trade unions – and guaranteed to underwrite the cost of apprenticeships thrown into doubt. Retaining skills is absolutely essential and Ms Sturgeon is wise to recognise this.
But although the First Minister displayed some leadership yesterday, there will be those who ask whether she should have been doing this a week ago, or earlier.
At times of financial crisis, it is important that senior politicians make an effort to feel our pain, to understand the insecurity and anxiety felt by those affected. There has been very little evidence of this among Scottish Government ministers.
More than a week ago, Scottish Labour’s leader Jim Murphy was in Aberdeen, demanding action to support the industry. He was able to do this because of the SNP’s curious blind spot on oil.
Our national political debate has struggled to move on from last year’s independence referendum. Perhaps this explains why the SNP response on oil has been sluggish. Acknowledging a crisis in the industry that would underwrite an independent Scotland has proved a tough call for Nationalist politicians.
Now, however, it seems this matter has Ms Sturgeon’s full attention. The penny has finally dropped.
Serve up live music, not pints
SCOTLAND’S capital city may be able to boast some advantages over its west coast rival but, when it comes to a live music scene, Edinburgh is Glasgow’s poor cousin.
While Glasgow has a flourishing network of venues of every conceivable size, Edinburgh lacks diversity. A smaller range of venues means fewer shows by touring artists.
And so plans to close Edinburgh’s Picture House as a live music venue came, last year, as a real shock to music lovers.
Over the years, the venue has hosted performances by some of the greatest icons in popular music, from David Bowie to The Smiths, from AC/DC to Orange Juice. It is a place where magic has happened.
But the venue was closed after the collapse of the entertainment giant HMV and later bought by Wetherspoons, which planned to turn it into a huge pub. Since then, the lack of a medium-sized venue has meant music-lovers having to travel west to see some of their favourite acts.
Yesterday, after receiving a 13,500-signature petition, city councillors and their officials agreed to visit the venue to help them form a view about whether they should act to preserve its status as a live venue.
We hope they do.
Pubs are wonderful places, of course, and Edinburgh is home to some of the country’s finest. But few things can compare with the thrill of being in the crowd during a great concert.
For the capital to lose the Picture House for good would mark a real blow to the city’s cultural good health.
We hope councillors can find a solution that adds lustre to the capital’s cultural crown, not one that dulls it.