Letter from Edinburgh
Erbil is the capital of Kurdistan and Kurdistan is the new Saudi Arabia with the fourth largest oil reserves on the planet.
Erbil could be Aberdeen in the 1970s, albeit without the sea, the harbour and sandstorms replacing easterly wind and sea harr. It is a boom town and is pulsing with energy as a massive exploration deal has just been signed between the American giant Exxon Mobil and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Kurdistan is part of Iraq but is the safer part of that war torn country. I visited last week as part of a cross-party delegation asked to describe the financial accountability of the UK and Scottish parliament systems.
Erbil and wider Kurdistan has been mercifully free of kidnappings, road side bombs and killings since 2007. It feels safe to walk and drive around despite the obvious security, bag checks and police who are present at all major buildings. UK interest is considerable with £3 billion of investment in the last six months alone and Aberdeen-headquartered Wood Group has a presence.
Our delegation visited the Kurdistan parliament, met the speaker and discussed where the oil industry would take politics. Kurdistan MPs are highly engaged in the Erbil-Baghdad financial and constitutional relationship.
The devolved government’s budget has grown from $100 million to $11 billion in nine years. Oil and gas revenues operate under a precise formula laid down in the federal constitution will add a further $2 billion to the Kurdistan budget in the next year.
Kurdistan parliamentarians are hungry for their government to work better in both policy and financial terms. They want an independent audit body which has enough staff to scrutinise government spending. But they also want a grown-up relationship with Baghdad.
When a region has gone through war and has Syria and Iran as neighbours a federal system that delivers a fair financial deal while allowing both policy independence and a clear hand to negotiations on mineral assets is the objective.
So in a federal or quasi federal system it is perfectly possible to have a grown-up relationship, work through policy differences and create jobs through foreign investment without the need for referendums or endless synthetic political rows.
Our hosts organised food in a local restaurant after we had completed the presentations in the Kurdistan parliament.
As we walked into a soviet style nondescript building a notice board caught my attention.A sign illus-trated a handgun with a red circle and a red line through the middle. Something you don’t see at Monty’s or the Lerwick Hotel!
Tavish Scott MSP