Government moves prevented Scotland claiming North Sea oil

Documents from the 1970s detailing government proposals to prevent Scotland laying claim to North Sea oil in the event of independence have been revealed.

The plans by civil servants in Whitehall included suggestions that Labour ministers delayed a referendum on devolution in Scotland, The Times reported.

Documents obtained by the newspaper also revealed proposals for the redrawing of the boundaries of Scotland's coastal waters and the creation of a British sector of the North Sea, ascribing oil and gas revenues to the UK as a whole - a move which was adopted.

Plans for an independence campaign for the Shetland and Orkney Islands, which produced over half of Scotland's oil reserves, were also put forward.

The Times quotes extracts from a paper written in 1975 by Sir David Walker, the then Assistant Secretary at the Treasury.

Sir David says that "progress toward devolution should be delayed for as long as possible consistently with honouring the government commitment to move down the devolution road and containing the SNP lobby in Parliament".

It also reveals details of a letter by then Minister of Energy, Tony Benn, to deputy leader Ted Short, in which he says energy policy "should be a function reserved to the UK Government".

Benn told The Times he had favoured Scottish devolution and had not believed independence would lead to the loss of North Sea oil.

Scotland's 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.

"Official figures showed that an independent Scotland would move up the EU league table from tenth to third in wealth per head, with out North Sea oil and gas resources included in Scotland's accounts.

"This is the reality that the London-based parties have been desperate to suppress for decades, but the truth will out."

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 reports. They appear to be the individual views of civil servants ruminating on putative public policies, abut are clearly not views shared by Labour. There is a Scottish Parliament, delivered by Labour, and Orkney and Shetland remain integral parts of Scotland."

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