The SNP Government of Alex Salmond is scrambling around desperately, engaged in a frantic damage limitation exercise after a confidential discussion document was leaked to the BBC suggesting volatility in Scottish Government oil income would be a major problem if independence is achieved. Whitehall sources claimed this morning that the leak was politically motivated, and the start of a spoiler campaign as the Independence Referendum approaches.
The document appears to be a draft paper for the Scottish cabinet from Finance Secretary John Swinney, outlining economic risks and dangers that ministers believe Scotland would have in the event of a “yes” vote in the referendum. I understand it is also pessimistic about North Sea oil revenues, and suggests this will cause ‘considerable uncertainty in financial planning’. Equally controversially, the document argues for the creation of an oil fund to help provide stability of income from the North Sea, and argues that this could lead to reduced public spending. A huge appeal of the SNP to its supporters has been its unwillingness to reduce the Scottish economy’s public sector and welfare dependency.
“The leak was an opportunity not to be missed by those in Government who remain committed to the idea of the UK staying together,” said a senior civil servant this morning, “and represents a huge embarrassment for the SNP. I have no doubt there will be more dirty tricks to come”.
Embarrassment has been obvious since the story hit the wires. In a hilarious left hand/right hand bit of out-of-control spin, the Holyrood Government first of all said the paper was “a first draft”, and then later tried to position it as “an old document that’s been overtaken by events”. Such statements are standard practice after a major leak, just not usually at the same time: it appears we have a very old first draft here that the author couldn’t be bothered to finish, but which seems nevertheless to be talking, in a well-informed way, about oil volatility in a global recession over the next five years. This is what Sloggers call McBollocks.
The leak is also part of a wider feud between those battling for hegemony in the UK, and not surprisingly it involves the ubiquitous NewsCorp and its owner, Rupert Murdoch. Last year, Craig Stephen at the Wall Street Journal wrote an influential piece dismissing Scottish inability to survive economically on its own as ‘a myth’. The WSJ is Murdoch-owned. Earlier in 2012 Murdoch openly courted Alex Salmond and tweeted his full support for Scottish independence. It is, of course, all part of his campaign to find another government to fit into his capacious pocket: but in turn it is the continuing revenge being taken against the Camerlot ‘traitors’ who dared to let his criminal employees get their collars felt by the Met Police. Think Andrew Mitchell, and you’re in the same sort of war zone.
Stay tuned to this bunfight. It’s going to be highly entertaining.