Alex Massie Alex Massie

The Etonian, the SNP and the Black, Black Oil

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.

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).

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