Independence ‘harder sell’ after oil collapse, admits MP

The oil and gas slump has made it harder to win support for independence, the SNP’s energy spokesman has conceded.

Callum McCaig said the nationalist cause was in general helped by a less-than-perfect economic situation.

But after making offshore revenues a key plank of the argument for secession in 2014, the dramatic drop now poses a hurdle.

“The change in the oil price doesn’t strengthen the case. It does make it, in some ways, a harder sell,” the Aberdeen South MP said.

“But the point is that independence has always been about… creating a better country, a better economy.

“If everything was tickety-boo I don’t think you would have 45% plus of the country wanting to change things.”

Mr McCaig made his frank assessment at the party’s conference in Aberdeen, where Nicola Sturgeon sought to rally support for a second referendum as early as next year.

“Despite the price of oil there is a compelling case that says – actually we are better off deciding our own economic future,” he added.

Mr McCaig said excluding oil and gas revenues entirely from the economic case for the next campaign might make sense.

That is currently being considered by Andrew Wilson, chairman of the SNP’s growth commission, who recently suggested that putting them front and centre in 2014 was a mistake.

“Any upturn in oil and gas, which I think is starting to happen, will have positive consequences for the case and will demonstrate without doubt that this can be afforded at any price of oil.

“So yes there is merit in considering that as we make the case,” he said.

The Scottish Government cited revenues of up to £7.9billion in 2016/17 and £11.8billion in 2017/18 but official estimates now put the figure at £4.6billion over the next five years.

Labour leader of Aberdeen City Council Jenny Laing said attracting the investment needed to secure the sector’s future would be “much, much harder” amid the “great uncertainty” caused by any fresh referendum.

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: “It is right that the SNP acknowledge that the slump in oil revenues damages the case for independence, but the fact is that the economic argument was lost even with $100 oil.

“The subsequent collapse in revenues would have been disastrous for an independent Scotland had we voted Yes in 2014. We would have been faced with massive cuts to public spending, increased taxes and higher borrowing.”

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