When supprters of Scottish independence cite the infamous McCrone Report – a UK government document suppressed by both Conservative and Labour administrations in the 1970s because of its explosive revelations about the potential wealth of an independent Scotland – Unionists have a standard tactic.
Mumbling that it’s all ancient history, water under the bridge, and things are different now, they attempt – quite understandably – to swiftly move the discussion away from the uncomfortable reality of how much trust Scots should place in the word of London governments on the subject of oil revenues.
Today’s Sunday Post carries a front-page lead story which notes that in the 40 years since the original report was hidden from the Scottish people, nothing has fundamentally changed. As almost nothing of the Post is currently available online, we’ve included a hefty extract from the article below.
HEALEY ADMITS OIL TAX COVER-UP
The former Labour Chancellor, Denis Healey, has admitted his Government played down the value of Scotland’s oil reserves in the 1970s because of the threat of nationalism.
Now Lord Healey of Riddlesden, the Labour peer said tax receipts from oil is the biggest factor behind Westminster opposition to both next year’s and the 1979 independence referendum.
The 95-year-old also claimed the Westminster parties are “worried stiff” about Scots voting Yes in next year’s poll because of the valuable income from the North Sea. Meanwhile he joined former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson in backing a bid for the UK to quit the European Union.
Lord Healey said the UK would “suffer enormously” without the billions of pounds of tax from North Sea oil. He said:
“I think they [Westminster politicians] are concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it. I think we would suffer enormously if the income from Scottish oil stopped but if the Scots want it [independence], they should have it and we would just need to adjust. But I would think Scotland could survive perfectly well, economically, if it was independent. Yes, I would think so… with the oil.”
In 1974 a leading Government economist, Professor Gavin McCrone, wrote a report which stated that Scotland would have had “embarrassingly” large tax surpluses as a result of the North Sea oil boom. Lord Healey’s Labour government decided to keep that document under wraps until it was eventually released in 2005. Reflecting on this time, Lord Healey 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 five per cent on GDP from oil. Incredible good luck she had from that.”
Asked if he had considered establishing a sovereign wealth fund with the oil revenues to invest in the country’s future when he was in office, he said: “It’s true that we should have invested the money in things we needed in Britain and I had thought about an oil fund, but it wasn’t my responsibility by then.”
We’ll forgive the Post for talking about the 1979 “independence” referendum just this once. The piece is apparently based on a longer interview with the former Chancellor which will appear in Holyrood magazine tomorrow. It should be a fascinating read.
In the meantime, readers might like to bear Lord Healey’s comments in mind the next time the No campaign is peddling its routine about how Scotland’s enormous natural resources are in fact just a source of volatility and danger, and how we’re best not worrying our pretty little heads about them and letting nice old Auntie Westminster take care of everything. After all, she’s got our best interests at heart, right?