What Nicola knew, according to Alex Gallagher. Or not?

In today’s Herald, the well-known Labour supporter and Councillor Alex Gallagher claims Nicola Sturgeon was informed about the future dramatic fall in oil prices three months before the referendum. This is what he says

IN June 2014, at the annual oil conference held in Aberdeen, Nicola Sturgeon was told by industry insiders that the market price of North Sea oil was about to fall dramatically and would likely settle around $60 per barrel. A year ago this week Sir Ian Wood cautioned that the SNP’s valuation of Scottish oil reserves was “around 60 per cent too high”. Nevertheless, against all the evidence and expert opinion, the SNP continued to claim that a predicted future price of $113 per barrel was a reasonable basis for planning and, if we voted Yes for independence, the resultant revenues would sustain the Scottish economy at current levels for the foreseeable future. In reality oil revenues have fallen by a whacking 75 per cent this year. The consequences of such a fall in oil revenues for a Scottish economy divorced from the economic strength of the UK, and for our public services in particular, would have been disastrous.

You report that former FM Alex Salmond is demanding apologies from BBC reporters and pardons for historical figures (“Salmond calls for pardons for 18th century radicals”, The Herald, August 25). Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, for Mr Salmond and the leadership of his party to desist from all the hand-waving and concentrate on their own performance?

The first anniversary of the SNP’s referendum on independence is fast approaching. Rather than demanding apologies from all and sundry for real or imagined or historical slights I would suggest that they designate September 18 as “SNP independence apology day” and issue their own mea culpa to the people of Scotland for the shocking level of their misdirection in this matter. A quiet thank you from the SNP to the majority who voted No for saving them and us from the consequences of their wilful foolishness wouldn’t go amiss either.

Alex Gallagher,

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Labour councillor, North Ayrshire Council,

12 Phillips Avenue, Largs.

To most of us with any recollection of the referendum debate, it must be obvious that there must have been some moratorium on that information – certainly well beyond a D notice – since I can really not believe that the Unionist press and the BT campaign would not have alighted on that with the greatest delight at that point in events.

We might also ask who it was who was making those forecasts, since I have, several times asked for anyone (and I think of Alex Gallagher as well) who was forecasting prior to 9/14 anything like the price that oil has fallen to.

As for Wood’s comment, that, as I recall was debated much more in the context at the time of just how much more oil could be extracted from the known fields in the North Sea. I don’t recall price being seriously debated, other than around whether it would be $90, or remain within the $100-$120 range that it had been in for the preceding four years.

Then there is the difficulty of the order of events. As I am sure Alex will recall, the White Paper, “Scotland’s Future”, was issued in 11/13, and it was this document that made use of the $113 price per barrel – put another way, the White Paper was issued 8 months before the forecast by people/ organizations unknown, was made known to Nicola Sturgeon.

Perhaps even more problematically for his argument, the forecasts being used by the SG in the WP were those made by none other than Department of Energy and Climate Change. One of the more amusing aspects of the debate around oil price during the referendum was that Better Together and Westminster were being critical of forecasts made by another Whitehall dept, on the basis of the more supportive (from their pov) forecasts of OBR (who, of course were wrong as well – just a bit less than others).

The discovery of Sturgeon being given the information claimed by Mr Gallagher is of course excellent from the pov of the narrative that he supports. However, as above, it suffers from a number of difficulties,

  1. not least that such a forecast – even if it had entered the public domain (and I have absolutely no recollection of that) was way, way out of line from anything else that was being suggested at the time. Sir Donald MacKay was defending the $100-$120 view. Even OBR was suggesting only $90. The forecast suggested by Alex Gallagher is 33% less than that, which was roundly criticised at the time for being far too pessimistic.
  2. Therefore, is he really arguing that if a forecast like that had been made by any kind of well-respected organization (or even not well-respected) during the referendum debate we wouldn’t have heard? Given the propensity of Better Together to make things up – especially bad news – this would have been too good an opportunity to allow to go by.

Jackie Baillie frequently makes the same argument about oil price, but then comes unstuck when she is faced with the question of who forecast the sort of price ruling now. Mr Gallagher is claiming that such a forecast did exist, but makes no attempt to tell us the source, or – even more surprisingly – why this was never exposed in the press at the time. His claim of course suits the unionist narrative, but like far too much of that narrative lacks detail beyond the claim, or supporting evidence –

“IN June 2014, at the annual oil conference held in Aberdeen, Nicola Sturgeon was told by industry insiders that the market price of North Sea oil was about to fall dramatically and would likely settle around $60 per barrel”.

Not as much as a hint of who told Sturgeon this, but no doubt we can expect the claim to be repeated. If or when it is, the source should be demanded, as well as an explanation of how the Scottish Government were able to keep this highly damaging information away from a press corps which could hardly be said to be supportive of their position.

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