Salmond clashes with Cameron over North Sea oil cash ahead of Scotland referendum

Scottish first minister challenges British PM to debate over industry's future after referendum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 11:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 12:59am

The British and Scottish governments held rival cabinet meetings in Scotland's oil capital yesterday to stake their claims for the industry's future - a key battleground in the independence debate ahead of a referendum in September.

British Prime Minister David Cameron took his ministers from London to Aberdeen on Scotland's northeast coast to announce investment plans for the North Sea oil and gas sector.

The fate of North Sea revenues is a major issue ahead of the September 18 referendum on whether Scotland should go it alone and end its 307-year-old political union with England.

Cameron flew by helicopter to an offshore oil rig to stress how the United Kingdom had the wherewithal to invest in North Sea exploitation.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond took his pro-independence regional government from Edinburgh to Portlethen, just outside Aberdeen, to bang the drum for keeping North Sea oil revenues within Scotland.

Cameron visited British energy giant BP's ETAP platform some 217 kilometres off the coast.

"The broad shoulders of one of the top 10 economies in the world has really got behind this industry and will continue to stay behind this industry so we get the maximum benefit out of it for all of the UK, including Scotland," he said.

"We can afford the tax allowances, the investment, the long-term structure that is necessary to make sure we recover as much from the North Sea as possible."

While they were both in the Aberdeen area, Salmond challenged Cameron to a head-to-head debate on independence.

"Let's get this referendum game on," the Scottish National Party leader said.

It is only the third time that the British cabinet has ever sat in Scotland, as Cameron strives to convince voters of the economic case to stay in the union.

Salmond, who wants to create a sovereign wealth fund from oil receipts in the way that Norway has, insisted control of North Sea resources would be better handled by an independent Scotland.

He said the London government had profited from but misused North Sea revenues.

"The reason they want to hang on to Scotland's resources is that they've done so well out of them over the last 40 years. I think the next 40 years should be Scotland's turn," he told the BBC.

He added: "We've had 16 tax changes in the North Sea in 10 years, we've had 14 oil ministers in the last 17 years.

"One thing that Scottish control of oil and gas resources will offer is a much more stable, long-term policy."