Scottish independence: Tories deny 1970s oil claims

The Hound Point Tanker Terminal, just to the east of South Queensferry. Picture: TSPL
The Hound Point Tanker Terminal, just to the east of South Queensferry. Picture: TSPL
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North Sea oil projections were not suppressed in the early 1970s to head off the threat of Scottish nationalism, according to the Conservative Party.

Former Labour chancellor Lord Healey caused a stir among nationalists last week when he claimed his Treasury “did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism”.

The Tories have produced an official 1973 UK government estimate - when the Tories were in power - of oil production levels for 1980. This was later shown to be in line with the level of oil extracted that year.

The Tories insist this undermines any claim by Lord Healey, who was chancellor from 1974 to 1979, that oil estimates were played down by the Treasury.

But the SNP insists the Tory figures do not cover the period Lord Healey was in office and say the actual value of oil was undervalued by £300 million.

In 1973, Conservative industry minister Tom Boardman predicted “a most likely range of oil production in 1980 of 
70 million to 100 million tons”, in response to a parliamentary question (PQ) by then Labour MP Jim Sillars.

Statistics from the UK Department for Energy show UK oil output in 1980 was 80.47 tons, in line with early estimates, according to Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw.

“Those claims come from a discredited former Labour chancellor, who was one of the architects of the 1970s economic disaster Margaret Thatcher had to clear up,” he said.

“The figures show very clearly that the UK government made a public estimate, which was gleefully quoted by both the SNP and Labour at the time.”

The SNP pointed to predictions that oil would contribute up to £2.4 billion to the economy by 1980 when the actual figure was £2.7bn.

SNP backbencher Maureen Watt said: “Denis Healey wasn’t chancellor and the Labour Party were not in office when this PQ was answered.

“It shows an incredible level of panic that the Tories describe the man who was chancellor of the Exchequer for over half the 1970s as an ‘unreliable’ source.

“The SNP remember how the Tories attacked an SNP prediction that oil taxation and royalties might be £825m to £2,400m by 1980. In the event the actual figure was £2,700m.”