Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Calls for Scottish Independence Rise Even as North Sea Oil Prices Fall

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Calls for Scottish Independence Rise Even as North Sea Oil Prices Fall

Article excerpt

The Scottish National Party issued a simple rallying cry for independence when vast oil and gas reserves were discovered under the North Sea in the 1970s: "It's Scotland's Oil."

But the idea of using oil receipts to fund a new nation has repeatedly failed - most recently last September - to convince a majority of voters to support independence. It's a dream that would seem to be getting more elusive, as crude oil prices fall to less than half of what they were during last year's referendum.

Yet it's not.

Rather than pushing Scottish voters into the arms of London, the oil crisis has done the opposite. Many are questioning decisions made by the British government, and SNP membership has quadrupled to more than 100,000 in recent months. The party is riding high in opinion polls, possibly on course to win enough seats in May's general election to hold the balance of power in Westminster.

Unionists have countered by pointing to the centrality of oil to the SNP vision of independence. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that only the "broad shoulders" of Britain could bear the burden of falling prices.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson argues that Scotland, if independent, would face a budget shortfall of Pounds 18.6 billion ($27.5 billion) as a result of the plunge in prices. She blames the SNP government in Edinburgh's devolved assembly for failing to see the current crisis coming.

For their part, Scottish nationalists have accused the British Parliament of mismanaging the North Sea industry, pointing to a series of tax hikes in recent years and the suppression of a 1974 report that predicted that Scotland would become "as rich as Switzerland" if had control of the oil in its waters.

"The gross mismanagement of Scotland's North Sea oil bounty by successive UK governments has left this country more vulnerable in the face of collapsing oil prices than it otherwise ought to have been," says Kevin McKenna, a columnist for the Scottish Daily Mail.

"If there was ever an argument for gaining Holyrood control over North Sea oil revenues then this was it," he adds, referring to the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. …

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