Shetland would be given a seat at the top table for negotiating the share of oil and gas tax revenues between Scotland and the rest of Britain if the SNP government secures independence, the SIC was promised this week.
After taking part in the government’s “national conversation” as part of a Highlands and Islands question and answer session at the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway on Monday night, council chief executive David Clark said he had been given the assurance by constitution minister Mike Russell.
The audience was directly linked by video to the Scottish government offices in Glasgow for the conference. Mr Clark asked Mr Russell if he could guarantee the SIC would be able to play a part in negotiations over oil and was told that the council would indeed be given that opportunity.
“It is a fairly significant attitude,” said Mr Clark, who stood unsuccessfully as an SNP candidate in the early 1990s but says he relinquished his membership before taking up the chief executive post. “There was in principle a commitment made there, and it’s one that I will follow up to ensure that it is recorded.
“Even just the next stage forward of devolution, with increased fiscal autonomy – I can’t see that it wouldn’t include discussion on oil revenues. I wanted to put a line in the sand to make sure there was no doubt we would be seeking to be an active part at the top level from the start.”
Mr Russell said the national conversation was giving people throughout Scotland the opportunity to discuss how any change in constitutional settlement would affect them. “An oil fund that invests a share of oil revenues would secure billions of pounds of benefits for the whole of Scotland, providing wealth for future generations. The whole of Scotland could benefit from a sharing of Shetland’s experience in establishing and running a highly successful fund.”
After oil was discovered in the North Sea, Shetland’s politicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s were able to secure an oil funds which are today valued at over £400 million in council and charitable trust reserves.
SNP ministers argue that around £230 billion of oil and gas revenue from Scottish territorial waters have “flowed into the UK exchequer” and been spent, pointing to funds set up in Norway and Alaska to suggest that Britain has wasted its earnings so far. Mr Russell said Shetland was another example which showed that successive UK governments had failed to secure long-term benefits from oil.
He added: “The success of the Shetland model simply adds to the case that devolving control of North Sea taxation and production to the Scottish Parliament is the right thing to do – to maximise the competitive advantage of our oil and gas industry and to ensure that oil and gas resources provide a sustainable and lasting benefit for this country.”