The SNP's Fergus Ewing has come in for a bit of stick recently. His claim to a Westminster committee that if Scotland gains independence then the UK should stand the cost of decommissioning North Sea oil installations didn't go down too well in certain quarters.
Of course, at first glance this does seem like a rather brazen and self-serving claim, but in fact it's eminently fair and reasonable, at least regarding the past rather than what happens in the future if Scotland does separate from the UK.
Most obviously, if an oil field is depleted before the split then since the UK gained the benefit from the revenues then rUK should pay the bulk of clean up costs, with Scotland shouldering a share on a pro rata basis, as with public borrowings.
However, if the oil rig is still in operation when Scotland gains independence then the decommissioning costs would fall depending on the share of the spoils before and after. For example, if 70% of the oil was extracted prior to the split then 70% of the clear up costs would fall to the UK because it derived 70% of the benefit, whereas the 30% arising post-independence would benefit only Scotland and to that extent Scotland alone should bear 30% of the subsequent costs.
By the same token, any oil extracted from new wells post-independence would benefit only Scotland and thus Scotland alone would bear all the decommissioning costs.
Which seems to be essentially what Fergus Ewing said. But Labour's John Robertson said of Fergus Ewing's claim: "I find that absolutely incredible. Scotland has benefited as much from oil as any area within the United Kingdom."
Er, nae really. If the revenues all went to Westminster and to the extent that all areas of the UK benefit from taxpayers' money (roughly) based on population then it's stretching things to say that Scotland has benefited disproportionately. Or if he's simply saying that Scotland benefited similarly to the rest of the UK pro rata then his point makes little sense.
But in all probability John Robertson knew all that full well, but such nuances don't fit the soundbite-based narrative under which most of politics is conducted, as of course the SNP ably demonstrated in the other direction last week regarding the Economist's 'Skintland' jibe - John Swinney can demonstrably misrepresent 'bankrupt Britain' (another crude soundbite), but a joke about Scotland being unable to pay its way in the future is clearly beyond the pale.
But Fergus Ewing surely had the upper hand this week in terms of the equity of the costs being attributed to whoever the benefits accrue to.
It's that simple, but it wouldn't fit the political imperative to represent it in this way.
Update: A letter in today's Scotsman from oil expert Professor Alex Kemp points out that the bill for decommissioning will be met by the oil company licensees, thus further confusing the debate. And that's certainly slightly different from the premise on which the reported political debate was based. However, I have neither the time nor inclination to investigate this further, which I suppose helps rationalise the political motivation to obfuscate and discombobulate!
(Apologies for the excruciatingly bad pun in the title, particularly when a correspondent to the Scottish Review said this week that "puns are neither big nor clever nowadays". Oops. But on a similarly puerile and frivolous point, isn't Fergus Ewing a particularly apt name for a politician dealing with oil issues? Fergus as in North Sea oil field and Ewing as per JR and Bobby et al of Dallas fame. Oh well, suit yourselves!!)