Brian Wilson: Let’s bring the SNP to book over oil

Aberdeen's boom would have been replaced by austerity if Salmond had won the referendum. Picture: Getty
Aberdeen's boom would have been replaced by austerity if Salmond had won the referendum. Picture: Getty
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Salmond’s referendum diaries are not the place to look for an accurate acount of Nationalist economics, says Brian Wilson

I WILL not be giving Mr Murdoch his £12.99 in order to share in the musings of Alex Salmond. Sufficient to rely on the extracts which can be obtained for nothing and all seem to be of the scapegoating variety. Always someone else’s fault.

Whose fault is it, I wonder, that Mr Salmond is now confirmed as having attempted the biggest deception in modern political history by arguing a case for Scottish independence that was based on entirely bogus claims about future North Sea oil revenues? Fortunately, he failed.

The UK government will receive less than £1 billion a year in oil revenues for at least the next five years. This compares to the Scottish Government’s insistence that the revenues in 2016-17 alone would amount to between £6.8 – 7.9 billion. The Office for Budget Responsibility now estimates £600 million for that year – surely a record-breaking miscalculation by the Scottish Government of over 90 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon blithely states that “everyone’s projections about oil were wrong” as if that magically exonerates the deception to which she was a leading subscriber. But, anyway, her memory is highly selective. The scale of the fall may be even greater than anticipated but it was the downward trend which the Nationalists stood alone in denying and were prepared to denigrate anyone who dared contradict them.

Incidentally, I see that Ms Sturgeon’s word of the week is “gleeful”. Anyone who points out the dishonesty of what she and her colleagues told the Scottish people, or the calamitous implications if they had succeeded, is not doing so because lies should be punished and realities exposed. They are doing so because they are “gleeful”, whatever that may mean in the language of the Holyrood kindergarten.

As far back as March 2013, the Office of Budget Responsibility was forecasting a drop in the oil price to “below $100 a barrel in future years”. Salmond dismissed this as “stuff and nonsense” and accused the civil servants responsible of “political manipulation”. That set the tone for two years of abusing the integrity and motives of anyone who dared contradict him.

And what about the debased Scottish civil service? The White Paper insisted that a “cautious” figure to base Scotland’s economic future on was $113 a barrel. As Dr Azeem Ibrahim wrote in a paper for The Scotland Institute: “If any of my PhD students had produced an economic argument this poor, I would have failed them immediately”. But someone, still hiding in St Andrew’s House, did write it, probably under duress. Will Salmond’s book will shed light on that murky process?

I accept that there are many in Scotland who do not give a toss about the lies, deceptions or dire economic and social consequences that would have followed, even by now, if the Nationalists had succeeded. For them, as for Salmond, the end justifies the means and if the means involve the flagrant fabrication of numbers to make the case stack up, then so be it.

But when history takes a calmer look at last year’s referendum, it is important that the narrative is not written by the loser, for it is he who should be called to account. The parable of the oil revenues should not be forgotten. Neither should the abuse hurled at dissenting voices. The SNP’s projections for Scotland’s jobs, schools and hospitals were based on an oil price of $113 a barrel. That is inescapable.

If Salmond and Sturgeon had prevailed, Scotland would be facing austerity on a scale unimaginable to anyone other than, perhaps, the Greeks. Jobs would be flowing out of Scotland in their tens of thousands as the implications of the folly became apparent. The young would be leaving on the same scale they fled Ireland after the banking crash from which we in Scotland were protected. And it would be too late to do anything about it.

As Dr Ibrahim wrote in his paper: “With an annual borrowing requirement of £20 billion-plus, there would have been simply no way to get finance on the international markets at sensible rates. Throw in the uncertainty over the currency and EU membership and it would have been financial Armageddon”. That is the bullet we dodged and no re-writing of history should portray it as anything other than an extremely sensible decision.

Yet this is more than a lesson for the benefit of history. The “full fiscal autonomy” which Salmond and Sturgeon now demand would exchange the Barnett Formula for North Sea oil revenues. That is the platform on which they say they will contest the General Election – not because even they could conceivably want that outcome in current circumstances, but as the subsequent excuse for more posturing and blame-shifting to absolutely no useful effect.

If almost half of Scotland wants that kind of politics, then it is what they will get. Unfortunately, the rest of us will have to suffer it too, but that’s democracy. I have no doubt the outcome the SNP are desperate to facilitate is the return of another Tory government which they can then portray as pantomime villains for whom Scotland did not vote. And so it goes on – all about process and manoeuvring without an inch of progress in terms of equality, fairness and social justice.

There was not much to cheer or boo about in this week’s budget. In fact, it contained a few good things and, as Labour have rightly said, nothing worth reversing. But a pre-election budget is not a reflection of the past five years or the next five years. The General Election offers a broad choice in the kind of society we want to live in. If Scotland helps to facilitate the return of the Tories as a price worth paying for giving Labour a kicking, then it must do so with its collective eyes open.

If it achieves that outcome by supporting the same people who assured them six months ago that their jobs, NHS and children’s future would be secure on the basis of an oil price of $113 a barrel, then we really are in a strange place. Yesterday, the price stood at $55.