How Whitehall moved to block march
LUCY BANNERMAN and TOM GORDON December 29 2005 in the Herald.
After 30 years of secrecy, declassified
documents have revealed the scramble among senior officials to feed the
Scottish public a poisoned pill of devolution.
The correspondence, which circulated behind the scenes in Whitehall in
early 1975, unveils efforts to persuade Scots not to vote for
independence. The SNP movement, officials admitted, was winning over
moderate public opinion and a counter-attack was needed to neutralise the
Nationalists' "trump card," oil.
Some of the most candid language emerges from the correspondence from John
Crawley, a civil servant who had been nominated as a "link-man" to liaise
between two policy units set up to oversee the devolution strategy.
In a letter to another cabinet official, entitled Devolution and Oil, Mr
Crawley conceded that the SNP slogan, "It's Scotland's Oil" was a
difficult one to counter. On April 15, 1975, he wrote: "I doubt whether
one can prove that an independent Scotland would be a disaster for the
Scots – at any rate while the oil lasted. Two points, however, occur to me
if one is going in for this sort of speculation.
"First it might be useful to have an established view as to just how much
North Sea oil would, in the event of Scottish independence, be 'Scottish
oil'. The general assumption, which may well be right, seems to be 'most',
if not 'all'."
At this point, Mr Crawley suggests it might be in the interests of the
anti–nationalist lobby to exploit tensions between Orkney and Shetland and
One eight-page document from the Central Policy Review Staff, one of the
policy groups within the Cabinet Office, makes clear the need for
to discredit claims
to oil. It reads: "The various constraints available to a Scottish
administration would be weakened and the counter-measures available to the
UK government would be strengthened if it were possible to discredit the
assumption that in any confrontation the Scots hold the trump card of
opting for independence.
"The Scots could no doubt inflict great harm on the rest of the UK by
playing this card. If it could be demonstrated with conviction that they
would also inflict great harm on themselves the card would cease to be a
Further proof of this Whitehall agenda lies in another letter, from John
Garlick, head of the Constitution Unit – the other working group – to the
Department of Energy. He wrote: "It seems desirable for us to attempt some
objective assessment of the strength from Scotland's point of view of the
economic case for Scottish independence; and of any disbenefits which
Scotland would have to incur in order to secure the oil. "It may be that
this assessment could be used to demonstrate that independence would in
fact operate to Scotland's
Alex Salmond, SNP leader, said: "This indicates
the extent of the conspiracy stretching through the government into the
the civil service to cheat Scotland out of its oil wealth. "It's clear
there was no tactic too despicable to be used given the extent of the
electoral threat posed by the SNP.
"These documents are quite devastating in
shredding any impression of civil service impartiality or any thought
whatsoever that the Labour party had Scotland's best interests at heart."
However, Brian Wilson,
Labour Scottish Office minister, responded: "Under any government, civil
servants prepare advice which is in line with the policies of the incoming
"It would be surprising if they had not prepared
counter-arguments on what was the hottest political issue of the day. The
arguments sound very obvious and reasonable to me."