Margo MacDonald: We were lied to over oil money

Denis Healey
Denis Healey
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‘Excellent. Watertight. The October Three Banks’ Review backs up your argument.

I shall, of course, oppose the SNP’s plans for oil with every political weapon I need to prevent Scottish independence.” I’d just been subjected to an intellectual ambush and I felt like a wrung-out rag, but I’ve never forgotten those remarks made to me in the House Of Commons Members’ Dining Room, 40 years ago this November, by Denis Healey, one of the biggest beasts in Westminster.

North Sea oil field. Picture: PA

North Sea oil field. Picture: PA

I had just been elected in a 
by-election that both Labour and Conservative MPs tried to dismiss as a protest. The backroom boys in Downing Street and other departments in Whitehall knew it signalled the start of something big. Scots demanding the oil found off the Scottish Coast should be managed by a Scottish government in the best interests of Scotland first, then perhaps the other parts of the UK that couldn’t lay claim to oil.

Only convinced pro-independence Nationalists would have believed me all these years ago if I’d made a song and dance about the former chancellor’s admission that Scotland would be cheated out of her natural resources. But he’s admitted quite openly in an interview with Holyrood Magazine that Westminster politicians, in all parties, lied and misinformed about the oil revenues, size of the oilfields and for how long they would produce oil.

Healey, judged to be one of the best intellects of his day, says that now, as then, Scotland would have enough resources to greatly improve our country, but that the same resources spread across the whole UK won’t transform it.

What more proof do Scots need that history is repeating itself? Healey admitting that Scots were lied to, the secret Cabinet papers recording that the books had been cooked to make it look as though an independent Scotland would be a poorer place to live and the objective, independent comments from American think-tanks.

Departments in Whitehall whose research into Scottish independence promise a disaster a day are encouraged by the success of the lyin’ cheatin’ double-dealin’ press stories of 40 years ago. Gullible pensioners were told that pensions would not be paid, banks would fail and everything we turned our hands and brains to would turn to dust.

But why should normally sharp consumers have their scepticism soft-soaped to such an extent? For 40 years ago people weren’t as well informed as to the workings of our governmental system as they are now. Today, more people know much more of the score. Are Scots too likely to believe that Westminster politicians would never cheat them to protect “British” interests?

If so, they should get over it. ­Healey says the revenue from oil alone is enough to grow the Scottish economy. We may have to negotiate heavy-duty treaties to claim all the resources in the part of the Continental Shelf agreed in the late 1960s, to be under the jurisdiction of Scots law. But at the end of the day, that was the agreement, so it’s much more likely that any Westminster government will accept reality and they will have to try to negotiate a better treaty.

Don’t let them scare you.

Why Scottish public should be making plans for Nigel

Nigel Farage holds opinions that don’t chime here. But he stands for election in England and can demonstrate a growing support amongst a wider group than has previously supported him. His foray into Scotland showed him to be an English rather than British politician.

If the demonstrators had been smart, they would have sent one of their number to stand outside the High Street pub to which he had invited people who wanted to talk to him. The demonstrator would have been accompanied by a movable poster bearing words that would have indicated the gap in the atmosphere created by Farage’s politics and the way in which we do things in Scotland.

He may not be a racist. It’s not racist to believe in controlling numbers of foreigners entering a country. But he seems to use, and take advantage of, people who are.

Don’t ship HMS Edinburgh out

In conversation with the TV camerawoman who had shot the story on HMS Edinburgh’s visit to Leith, I had one of these ideas that will either prove to be inspired or an impossible dream. Why not, I asked my captive audience, keep Edinburgh in her home port instead of allowing her to be taken away to be scrapped somewhere? She could be moored alongside Britannia and I’m pretty sure would serve to double the number of visitors.

Or, she may be suitable for adaptation that would allow for outdoor training or naval careers introduction. I’d certainly like the possibilities investigated, but I’ve had to get off my marks because Edinburgh is supposed to leave tomorrow.

I’ve put a motion down in parliament and written to Defence Minister Philip Hammond. I’ll keep you posted.