Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Anger at advice to stop oil claim

Oil platform - generic
North Sea oil began pumping from the middle of 1975

Nationalists have hit out after documents from the 1970s revealed strategies to stop Scotland laying claim to North Sea oil.

The Whitehall briefings suggest delaying a referendum on devolution and redrawing the boundaries of Scotland's coastal waters.

First Minister Alex Salmond condemned what the SNP called "deceit and desperation" by UK governments.

Labour said the views had not been its policy and it had delivered devolution.

Billions of barrels of oil have been pumped from the North Sea since 1975 and experts believe between 25 and 30 billion barrels could still be recovered over the next 40 years.

The documents obtained by the Times newspaper indicate there were proposals to prevent Scotland laying claim to the North Sea reserves in the event of independence.

These papers are proof positive of the bad faith of successive UK governments
Alex Salmond
First Minister
It quotes extracts from a paper written in 1975 by Sir David Walker, the then Assistant Secretary at the Treasury.

Sir David said that "progress toward devolution should be delayed for as long as possible", despite a referendum being a Labour manifesto commitment at the time.

Advisors also suggested the boundaries of Scotland's coastal waters should be redrawn and a new sector created to "neutralise" Scotland's claim.

One official even proposed a local campaign for independence in Orkney and Shetland in order to split territorial claims to oil production.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: "These papers are proof positive of the bad faith of successive UK governments - Labour and Tory - in depriving Scotland of access to our own North Sea resources for nakedly political reasons."

SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie said: "The UK Government has conspired to keep Scotland from her oil wealth and her independence for over 30 years.

There is a Scottish Parliament, delivered by Labour, and Orkney and Shetland remain integral parts of Scotland
Michael Connarty
Labour MP
"These new revelations of plots and plans to change the border, delay devolution and manipulate the position of Shetland and Orkney expose the lengths to which successive UK Government's have gone."

Sir David Walker is currently investigating the banking crisis and bonus payments for the UK Government.

Mr Hosie added: "Where we now see a UK Government dragging Scotland into recession and cutting Scotland's funding to pay for their record levels of debt, Norway's oil fund is worth over 200 billion and is not just supporting Norway's economy but is helping Norway support it's neighbours.

"That Gordon Brown is now being advised on the financial crisis by one of the mandarins behind these plans only adds to the bittersweet irony of these revelations."

But Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, said the views expressed in the documents did not reflect those of the party.

"As the party that fought for and delivered the Scottish Parliament, it is interesting to hear of the reports," he said.

"They appear to be the individual views of civil servants ruminating on putative public policies, but are clearly not views shared by Labour.

"There is a Scottish Parliament, delivered by Labour, and Orkney and Shetland remain integral parts of Scotland."

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Murdo Fraser said: "Only a political anorak would get excited about the contents of a 30-year-old historical document."

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