Friday 4 December 2009

Putting the record straight

I have seen, recently, two pieces stating, quite categorically, that the McCrone report written for the UK Government in the 1970s was released under the 30 year rule. One was Jim Sillars' paper (not very good) and one was a BBC production (passable).

For the sake of decency and history, can we be clear. This report wasn't released under the 30 year rule and it wouldn't have been. It was the result of the inspiration of a guy called Davie Hutchison who used the Freedom of Information legislation to dig deeper and deeper into the archives, using references in some archives to ask for other documents until he found a gold mine. I know this because I am fortunate enough to be his friend and lucky enough to have been one of the team that worked on his discovery before it was released. I was also the guy who got the text messages while Davie was in the archives, they went something like this:
DH to CC: What did we say about oil in the 1970s?
CC to DH: Dunno exactly, I was just a child.
DH to CC: I was several years away from being born, what did we say generally?
CC to DH: We had a campaign "its Scotland's oil" saying there was a lot of wealth in North Sea Oil and it belonged to us.
DH to CC: And they denied it?
CC to DH: As far as I remember, yes.
DH to CC: I've found something that might be interesting, I'll be up as soon as I've copied it.

I went back to work thinking Davie had got over-excited about something that 'everyone' knew about. Davie, meanwhile, spent about half of what he earned in a week on the huge charges for photocopying at the National Archives and brought us the stuff that has now become famous.

Having grown up in Dundee East, I was delighted to be able to send an embargoed copy to my father for him to share with Gordon Wilson who fronted the 'Scotland's Oil' campaign years before Davie Hutchison was born.

The 30 year rule works on the basis of the date that the last document was added to the folder. If my memory serves me right (and you can check it at the National Archives in Charlotte Square) the last document added to that folder was 1992 so none of it was due for release until 2022 (providing nothing else was added to extend the date). There was nothing blacked out - I'm fairly sure the Scotland Office didn't know what they were releasing - and I think that some people do a good job in keeping it available.

Davie Hutchison, though, deserves respect for the work he did and the dedication he showed. No-one should think that this was an easy release under the 30 year rule.

Mind now!


Jeff said...

Crikey. I had absolutely no idea about that.

What a hero.

sm753 said...

"DH to CC: And they denied it?
CC to DH: As far as I remember, yes."

Your memory's not too good.

“HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc488-9W 488W

§ Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what are his latest estimates of the output from North Sea oil by 1980.

§ Mr. Tom Boardman

The report on production and reserves of oil and gas on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf which I presented to Parliament in May forecast a most likely range of oil production in 1980 of 70 million-100 million tons. Recent discoveries should ensure that the lower end of this range is reached; with further discoveries in the next year or two it should be exceeded.”

And in fact, oil production in 1980 turned out to be 80.5 million tonnes.

So they, er, denied it by answering a question from, er, Jim Sillars MP, and giving an answer which turned out to be pretty much on the money (if a little on the high side).

Sorry to spoil the conspiracy theory.

Curly said...

sm753. How does that "spoil the conspiracy theory"?

If they were so free and easy with this information why didn't they publish the McCrone report back then?

And do you have any examples of the London parties accepting the SNP's case for oil in the 70's?

sm753 said...

How does it "spoil the conspiracy theory"?

Well, it means that the charge of "concealing the extent of North Sea oil" is patently untrue.

The production forecast was made public in 1973. The forecast was pretty accurate.

Oh, you want to talk about revenue forecasts?

They were public too.


HC Deb 25 February 1975 vol 887 cc290-9

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Edmund Dell):

The hon. Member asked for an estimate of revenues on the basis of certain figures of oil production in—I take it—the 1980s. He will understand that in the early years the revenue from North Sea oil will be relatively small but growing fast. In the early 1980s, at a figure of 100 million tons, it should be £2,000 million or £3,000 million. Of course, the higher the production the greater the consequent revenues. However, all figures in this respect must be treated with some caution because they depend, first, on the price of oil and, secondly, on the cost of exploration and development. I therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we wait to see what we get before relying on it too much. “

Correct for inflation and you find that these were also in the right ballpark, if a bit too optimistic.

So it turns out that the 1974 and 1979 elections were fought with the public and the SNP in full possession of the availabled facts about North Sea oil.

To suggest otherwise is a lie.

If this comment is not published, it will go up on my own blog as public challenge.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff Calum. You're lucky to ahve shared in that, and we're lucky to have the results.

Bravo to your mate Davie.

Anonymous said...

sm753 neither of yiur posts answer why this report was kept secret.

Why was it?

And why were the unionist parties nit using this argument?

Interesting that the questioner in 1973 went from being an out and out unionist to where he is nowadays.

I wonder why.