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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 11:58 GMT
Secret papers show oil cash fears
Oil workers
North Sea Oil was in its infancy in 1975
Official papers which were previously secret have shown how ministers were advised to delay devolution to maintain control of North Sea oil revenues.

The 1970s documents warned that if devolution increased calls for independence, the loss of oil income might leave the UK virtually bankrupt.

The documents are highlighted in the BBC Radio Four series Document.

Prominent Scottish National Party supporter Sir Sean Connery has called for an inquiry into the affair.

Harold Wilson's Labour government came into power in 1974 promising a referendum on devolution for Scotland.

The same election saw major advances for the Scottish National Party, fighting under the slogan It's Scotland's Oil.

The Scots have really got us over a barrel here
Treasury memo 1975

A senior Whitehall civil servant wrote: "Progress towards devolution should be delayed for as long as possible, consistent with honouring the government's commitment to move down the devolution route and containing the SNP lobby in parliament."

Another official warned in 1975 of the impact on the rest of Britain's economy if Scotland moved to independence and took control of North Sea oil.

He said: "The Scots have really got us over a barrel here. The prospects for a separate English, Welsh and Ulster economy on the same assumption must look pretty grim."

A referendum on devolution was eventually called in 1979.

A slim majority of people in Scotland voted in favour but not enough to pass the threshold of 40% of the entire electorate required by legislation.

Sir Sean suggested the result of the vote could have been different if Scots had known the full truth about their oil reserves.

Sean Connery
The former Bond star has called for an inquiry into the affair

"This is genuine evidence of what I consider collusion by people who are not in the position to make that decision.

"The depth of it, the cynicism of it, is appalling. There should be a genuine inquiry and it should be exposed."

Lord Healey, then Labour Chancellor Denis Healey, said: "The real tragedy for us would have been Scotland run by the Scot Nats because they had no interest in the rest of Britain."

Papers released at the end of last year by the Cabinet Office under the 30-year rule revealed a 1975 memo by Sir Kenneth Berrill, head of the central policy review staff, saying that Scotland could "go it alone" on the profits of North Sea oil.

SNP leader Alex Salmond said in December that it showed "the extent of Whitehall's duplicity".

He said the note admitted that a UK government would have to divert huge resources to Scotland for it to be as well off as under independence.

BBC Radio 4's Document - It's Our Oil, 2000-2030 GMT, Monday 30 January.

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