Guess what? We’re too poor again.
It’s only two weeks since North Sea oil was such a fantastic investment that it looked set to keep the South East in infrastructure projects and Cabinet ministers’ chums in gold-plated bath-taps for years to come. But all of a sudden, now that the latest GERS report’s come flying through the window wrapped around a brick, it’s a dodgier business proposition than Del-Boy and Rodney flogging a lorryload of inflatable dolls at Peckham Market.
Of course, the figures are a game-changer, if you ignore every single one of the last four years, close your eyes to the bleedin’ obvious special circumstances, remove your brain with an ice-cream scoop and replace it with cushion stuffing. Speaking of which, isn’t it wonderful to see Iain Gray back on the BBC, sharing his child-like vision of the world with a grateful public?
At Pacific Quay, moves are afoot to commemorate Douglas Fraser’s heroic efforts in interpreting the report for us, by permanently displaying a scribbled-on fag packet in a glass case in the lobby. Elsewhere, there’s unbridled joy amongst those who love Scotland to bits, but would rather it remained in the shortbread tin where it can’t embarrass them. Alistair Darling, more relaxed than he’s been for aeons, has donned a pair of shades and intends to spend the day zipping round Edinburgh on a scooter saying “Ciao” to passers-by. In Aberdeen, meanwhile, a house-to-house search for copies of the White Paper is under way, as councillors look forward to a massive celebratory bonfire with optional naked frolicking.
So was Sir Ian Wood just taking the piss when he produced that report about the North Sea having a future? “Yeah, couldn’t be bothered doing the work, so I just wrote the first thing that came into my head. You should have seen Jim Naughtie’s face! Pure beetroot, he went. Had to stab myself with a paper-clip to stop myself laughing. The oil’s buggered really, won’t last much beyond 10 pm on 18 September if you ask me. Unless the UK Parliament slips in a change to the territorial border to make it run northwards from Carnoustie to the Arctic Circle. That might keep things going a bit longer.”
Jings! What do the oil companies think? Why bother with this exploration thing if it’s so hopeless? Maybe they’ve got a sentimental attachment to fighting losing battles? “Wait a minute, chaps, this oil’s flowing a bit too easily for my liking. Why don’t we replace all the pipes with used-up toilet rolls, to make it interesting? Or, even better, let’s stop drilling altogether and just send frogmen down to hack at the sea bed with teaspoons.”
And what about the £14.4 billion investment the conglomerates ploughed into the North Sea during 2012-13? “Yep, that was a bit of a horse’s arse. But, to be fair, the initial e-mail we got was very convincing, and the “How To Send The Money” web page had proper bank details and everything, and they did send each of us a nice embossed certificate. It’s tax-deductible anyway, so Osborne will probably just chuck a few more poor people on the fire and forget about it.”
So, despite all the signs we naively thought were positive, it would appear the oil industry is in fact about to collapse in a heap, like a drunken camel attempting to ice-skate. Except for viewers in the OPEC countries, who expect to benefit from price rises in the next few years, and Norway, where they’re too well-mannered to be smug about their oil fund, and indeed every other country on the planet that isn’t run by over-promoted toffs whose greed is matched only by their incompetence.
Well, you know what? Oil was, is, and ever shall be a bonus. If, uniquely among our species, we can’t make money from it, we’ll leave it in the ground. (“Ooh, God will start charging you rent!” warns the pipsqueak Danny Alexander.) What’s really impressive about yesterday’s GERS figures, unless you’re Eeyore’s first cousin spouting unchallenged mince on Newsnicht, is that you can take a wrecking ball to North Sea revenues and still end up with Scotland in a position broadly the same as the rest of the UK. That’s a decent enough starting point for us to make something of it.
We already know we’ll start out with a deficit, and whether or not it’s per capita larger than the UK’s, on the basis of one iffy snapshot out of the last five, is mind-blowingly irrelevant. Maybe it’ll be smaller than we think, since debt interest could be anywhere between £4 billion and diddly-squat, depending on how idiotic Westminster decides to be, and some of the other GERS expenditure attributed to Scotland looks a tad steep. I mean, £3 billion for defence, when the blustering Hammond allows Russian ships to roam unchecked with only Ian Davidson and his bayonet to protect us?
Maybe things really will be squeaky tight, and we’ll have a tough task to balance the books. But, even if busting out of the Westminster stranglehold isn’t enough to avoid austerity, I’d still rather have the likes of John Swinney taking a sensitive approach to it than Osborne or Balls imposing ideologically-driven mayhem on whoever can’t fight back. (Other Scottish politicians are, of course, available. If the people are smart enough to vote for independence, I expect them to be smart enough to avoid electing numpties. Otherwise it’s like spending a fortune on loft installation, then smashing all of your windows.)
So there. Do your worst, Better Together, whatever foul blast from the cheeks of Beelzebub you plan to unleash on us in the next few days. Your ammunition’s beginning to run out, and we haven’t even begun to fight yet.
Would be nice to start soon, though.