X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Blogs

The Etonian, the SNP and the Black, Black Oil

24 February 2014

12:00 PM

24 February 2014

12:00 PM

You will recall that, according to the greatest account of England’s history, every time the English thought they had solved the Irish Question, the Irish changed the Question. 

Something similar afflicts David Cameron’s grapplings with the Scottish Question. The poor man is damned if he does and equally damned if he doesn’t. The other week he was lambasted for his effrontery in giving a speech about Scotland in, of all places, London. Today he is lambasted for bringing his cabinet to Aberdeen. How dare he lecture us from afar; how dare he venture north like some touring proconsul!

The optics, as the pros say, are not very good for the Prime Minister. The cabinet very rarely comes to Scotland. Drawing attention to that fact may not help Mr Cameron’s cause. It risks reinforcing precisely the negative stereotype he seeks to counter. (On the bright side: at least it’s not, say, August 11th.)

Moreover the ground upon which the British government chooses to fight today may not be the best terrain imaginable. There is, to be sure, something to be said for attacking your opponent’s strength. Beat him there and you defeat him everywhere. Even so, it is a bold move. North Sea Oil is Scotland’s economic strength and, frankly, the industry that makes independence conceivable.

[Alt-Text]


Oil accounts for something like 15% of Scottish GDP. As problems go, this is one of the better ones to have. Granted, this means that onshore GDP per capita is lower than the UK average and this too highlights the extent to which an independent Scotland would, at least initially, be awkwardly dependent upon oil revenues. Even so, this is a problem most of us would rather endure than not (the exceptions being Green crackpots who wish to leave the oil where it is).

It may be, as Douglas Fraser has suggested, that a British government would be better placed – by virtue of not being so reliant upon oil revenues – to enforce the kinds of reforms to the industry suggested by Sir Ian Wood but, frankly, even if true this is a hard thing to sell politically.

Because, whether the British government means to suggest this or not, it leaves Westminster arguing that, in the end, Scotland is too small and too weak to manage the oil industry. At least that is the implication of the latest iteration of the now-familiar security argument in favour of the Union. Again, there is something to this: pooling resources is not necessarily daft; Scotland would be much more vulnerable to swings in oil prices than the UK is at present. As Larry Elliott remarked yesterday, this is classic boom and bust territory.

Be that as it may, the suggestion that Scotland would make a balls of the oil industry is one that will strike many Scots – not all of them committed Yes voters by any means – as something that is inherently daft. They don’t want to believe this and many of them will not believe it. To put it bluntly, we are not Azerbaijan but if Baku can run an oil industry perhaps we can too.

True, the Unionist case is a little more nuanced than sometimes suggested. It is not that Scotland could not manage life as an independent nation state but that its interests are better served by the Union. Quite Good Apart but Better Together.

Perhaps the Prime Minister will succeed in persuading swithering Scots that the oil is too complicated, too uncertain and too important to be left to an independent Scotland but, on the face of it, I wouldn’t want to wager too hefty a sum on that proposition. Not least since not everyone will be convinced Britain has used its oil revenues as effectively as it might have.

It’s Britain’s oil, of course, not Scotland’s. At least for now. But for how much longer?

 

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close