The Scottish National Party has been accused of trying to “con” the Scottish public into voting for independence after figures emerged showing the collapse in North Sea oil has dented the country's finances.
On BBC’s Question Time, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, claimed the SNP had been “found out” over it claims each Scot would be £500 better off out of the United Kingdom.
But the SNP’s John Swinney, the finance minister, said the claims were based on a single year’s figures. The heated exchange was one of many that underlined how the fall-out from the 2014 “No” vote continues to glow.
Ruth Davidson: "The case was false, they knew it was false and they tried the con the Scottish public."
This week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled official figures showing Scotland last year ran up a £15 billion deficit that was proportionately twice the size of the UK’s.
She blamed the collapse in the oil price and UK Government “mismanagement” of the North Sea.
But next year’s oil revenues are expected to be far worse, with Scottish government figures showing the total income fell from £1.8 billion in 2014/15 to only £55 million in the first half of 2015/16.
During Question Time from Dundee, Davidson attempting to pick apart the SNP’s economic case for going it alone, arguing: “You can’t sell a case for low taxation, high welfare on an oil price that was unusually high, with revenues that were unassailable and unprovable. They’ve been found out.”
She went on to dismantle the Scottish government’s argument that the oil revenue crash could not have been “suspected” and “we all got it wrong”.
“That’s just nonsense,” she said. “The difference is we were saying even two years ago at First Minister’s Questions, I stood up and said the (independent Office for Budget Responsibility) says the oil revenue for next year will be about £3 billion. (Then First Minister) Alex Salmond tried to swat me aside by saying don’t be ridiculous it will be £8 billion. Actually it’s going to be a lot lower than that.”
She continued: “We did know there was going to be a drop in revenue. We did know the cost of extraction was going to be higher. We did know there was not going to be as much profits so we couldn’t tax the companies as much, which meant there wouldn’t be as much money flowing into the coffers.”
She added: “They made a case (for independence) on the basis that people in Scotland would be £500 richer. They knew that case was wrong when they made it. The case was false, they knew it was false and they tried the con the Scottish public. I’m glad two million people voted ‘no’.”
John Swinney: "You could look at the finances of the UK and Scotland in 2008 and say - well the deficit of the UK is double the deficit of Scotland, so it’s all over for the United Kingdom."
In response, Swinney renewed the argument that oil prices had “fallen very dramatically”, but there was still the opportunity to make the most of a “viable oil and gas sector”.
He added: “Anyway, if you looked at finances on a one-year basis, you could look at the finances of the UK and Scotland in 2008 and say - well the deficit of the UK is double the deficit of Scotland, so it’s all over for the United Kingdom. That’s the kind of argument Ruth and her colleagues are trying to get us to believe today.”
Thursday's Question Time came from Dundee, Scotland. The programme's panel included leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson MSP, deputy first minister of Scotland John Swinney MSP, Labour's health spokeswoman Jenny Marra MSP.