Labour MP Margaret Curran has admitted her party were “foolish” to mislead Scots over the worth of North Sea Oil in the seventies, describing it as collusion.
The Shadow Scottish Secretary claimed not to have been aware that her party underplayed the true value of Scottish Oil after former Chancellor Denis Healey admitted Labour underplayed its worth in order to thwart support for the SNP.
Quizzed by BBC Scotland journalist Derek Bateman on Mr Healey’s remarks, made in an interview with Holyrood magazine, Ms Curran said:
“I would have thought that was a very foolish way to do it. I would never have colluded with an argument that didn’t make Scotland strong.”
Lord Healey was Labour Chancellor from 1974 to 1979, and held the post in the run-up to the 1979 Scottish Home Rule referendum. Commenting on the issue of North Sea Oil, the Labour peer said:
“I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism but that was mainly down to Thatcher.
“We didn’t actually see the rewards from oil in my period in office because we were investing in the infrastructure rather than getting the returns and really, Thatcher wouldn’t have been able to carry out any of her policies without that additional 5 per cent on GDP from oil.”
The Labour peer also insisted that an independent Scotland could survive “perfectly well”, but said the rest of the UK “would suffer enormously if the income from Scottish oil stopped”.
He said of Westminster politicians: “I think they are concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it.”
The comments are damaging to the No campaign and have re-ignited the debate over the honesty of successive UK government’s when it comes to the value of Scotland’s oil and gas resource.
It also led to anger after BBC Scotland refused to give any significant coverage to the interview on its news programmes, restricting comment on Reporting Scotland to a 15 second sentence. Good Morning Scotland host Gary Robertson also failed to press former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling on the issue this week, despite the Labour MP being head of the pro-Union Better Together campaign.
In the Holyrood Magazine interview, Lord Healey also suggested that the current Conservative-led UK government are employing the same tactics as the Labour party did in the seventies.
In the current referendum campaign, Westminster has claimed that revenue from the North Sea will begin to drop following 2014 and that the resource is far too volatile for an independent Scotland’s economy.
The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), set up by Tory Chancellor George Osborne, has claimed oil and gas will generate £33bn up to and including financial year 2017/18. This is around £9bn lower than the Scottish Government’s own cautious analysis, which forecast £42bn.
The Scottish government claims that there still exists £1.5 trillion of oil to be extracted from the North Sea. However a recent study, based on OECD figures, suggested that improvements in technology meant that there could be as much as £4 trillion of oil and gas left in Scottish waters.