“The oil crash is good for the overall economy” and Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s deficit deception

In the run up to the independence referendum of Sept 2014, Scottish voters were repeatedly told “oil is just a bonus” and our public finances were not reliant on such a volatile and uncertain resource.

To prove this, the SNP’s White Paper produced a fantasist forecast of oil revenues at up to £7.9bn.  Because basing your hypothetical independent country on oil and gas forecasts far in excess of what anyone else was predicting is concrete proof that said forecasts aren’t really that important…**

Following the referendum, the oil price fell.  Then fell some more.  Then went into freefall.  Then stopped for a bit.  Then fell some more.

This has been a terrible reality for people like me who work in the industry.  Rather less importantly, it has also been terrible politics for supporters of independence as those few people who actually believed that oil was “just a bonus” to the independence case would soon have concrete evidence that this was, in fact, a massive lie.

This led to a number of pro-independence supporters making various claims about the oil price crash and its impact on Scotland.  Wings had a good go at it, maintaining that the net impact would actually be good for Scotland’s economy.

For reasons that should be obvious to most, Wings continues to reference this BBC article and Fraser of Allander report from March 2015 up to 10 months after its publication, handily ignoring the more recent information – like this article posted on the same day as this from Wings and 2 weeks before his radio “debate” with Kevin Hague of chokkablog.

bbc 1.jpg

And did the article offer an explanation for Scotland’s economy lagging behind rUK’s?  Oh, they did?

bbc 2

Well fancy that.

Of course, no-one could deny that lower oil prices will be of benefit to at least some sectors of the economy, it’s simply common sense.  There may even be some truth in a medium to long term positive impact as the ensuing growth will always *eventually* outstrip the contraction in the oil industry but the biggest factor in all of this is the public revenues that are generated and this is where the negative impact is undeniable… or so you’d think.

With oil revenues in 2015/16 predicted to be around £130m for the UKCS (~£110m for Scotland), this leaves around a £7.8bn gap from the SNP’s forecasts.  That £7790m.  A 98.6% fall.

To fill that £7790m tax revenue gap, onshore taxes in Scotland would have to increase by the corresponding amount.  In 2013/14, onshore revenues were £50bn.  So we’d need an increase of 15.6%.

Compared to the actual oil revenues from 2013/14, rather than the SNP’s forecasts, an 8% growth is required.  So clearly this is just nonsense.

Which would provide something of a problem for some but not, it would appear, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, Chief Executive of Business for Scotland and occasional columnist for The National.

Mr MacIntyre-Kemp, in an August 2015 article which was both printed in The National and posted on Business for Scotland, argued that Scotland’s deficit had in fact *reduced* despite the crash in oil prices.


Ignoring for a minute that Mr MacIntyre-Kemp believes an 8.1% GDP deficit to be “manageable”, it may be worth looking into the figures he is quoting.


An alert reader will notice that the 8.1% GDP deficit is from 2013/14, an improvement from the 9.7% GDP deficit of 2012/13.  If only Mr MacIntyre-Kemp were an alert reader.

If the reason is still not clear to you, perhaps this will help.

deficits v oil
Oil price data from Money Week

The blue line is the price of a barrel of Brent Crude.

Mr MacIntyre-Kemp was trying to assert that the deficit for April 2013 to March 2014 is evidence that Scotland’s economy is benefitting from an oil crash that started in July 2014.

A deliberate lie or embarrassing incompetence?  I’ll leave you to decide but it’s worth also highlighting that on 15th August 2015, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp believed that “the worst-case oil price scenario” had hit.  It wasn’t even an isolated claim:

gmk 2
Source – The National

August 7th 2015 and “the price can only go up”.  Well let’s have a check on how that prediction went…


Source – NASDAQ

If oil really is “just a bonus” then why are they so desperate to overestimate the forecasts and underestimate the crisis?

Of course, today the actual post-crash figures were released – at least partially with GERS for 2014/15 including around 6 months of sub-$100 price revenues.  The figures reveal the lie behind any desperate claim that the oil crash is good for Scotland’s economy.

From an 8.1% GDP deficit in 2013/14, the slump in oil revenues has contributed to Scotland recording a 9.7% GDP for 2014/15.  £14,900,000,000 of deficit.  That’s more than 2013/14.  Worse.  By 1.6% GDP.   Or £2.5bn cash.  Of course it must be pure coincidence that oil revenues are £2.2bn lower…

Whilst the overall UK deficit has improved from 5.8% of GDP to 4.9%.  Still not great but almost half that of Scotland.

Not quite what Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp would have you believe.

And remember that these figures are for 2014/15, when oil was still $100+ for half the period covered.  Oil revenues are due to fall below £0.2bn for 2015/16…

But what about the onshore economy?  Perhaps Wings was right and the lower oil price would result in an economic boost to the country that would more than compensate for the loss of oil revenue?  Well… er… no.

Onshore revenue, excluding oil and gas, grew in Scotland by 3.2% – an impressive result – versus 4% for the UK overall.  So less.  And even with the onshore growth, the total tax revenue in Scotland fell by £607m.

The crashing oil price will prove to be a benefit to some sectors but any claims that it is a positive for public revenues in Scotland is clearly and demonstrably wrong.



**please note that I said “forecasts” not “price”.  There is a very good reason the SNP always say their “price forecasts were in line with industry at the time” and ignore the forecast bit.  If you’re not sure why, watch this:



22 thoughts on ““The oil crash is good for the overall economy” and Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s deficit deception

    1. Did you read the Fraser of Allander Institute update today?


      “In our latest Economic Commentary we note that Growth in both the Scottish and UK economies is set to slow further with falling oil prices having a net negative impact on Scotland compared to the rest of the UK”

      “The low price of oil appears to be having a negative effect on Scottish growth, with negative supply effect outweighing positive demand effect. This negative effect is being sustained as the longer than expected delay in the recovery of oil prices is dampening overall investment expenditure”

      Pretty interesting.


  1. There are so many assumptions and omissions in your case I’m not sure what your point is. Scotland’s lower growth compared to the UK, highlighted in your post, can – as noted in the piece I linked to – be explained by England’s population growth, a factor a devolved Scotland has no powers to affect but which an independent Scotland would.

    Secondly, correlation is not causation. The fact that the economy has suffered a loss overall doesn’t mean that the oil price is to blame. It’s perfectly plausible, indeed likely, that the net effect OF THE OIL PRICE CHANGE ALONE – ie things that are directly affected by that – is positive, but that it’s been outweighed by the other damage done to the economy by austerity policies which are also outwith Scottish Government control while Scotland is in the UK.

    Etc etc. I’m a bit busy today but that covers the obvious.


    1. Thought the population growth point was a good one and not something I’d considered previously but given that the figures show per capita onshore revenue has increased in UK by £300 and Scotland by £200 this argument doesn’t really stack up.

      Also not sure that I agree with the argument that the Scottish Government has no influence over migration. It’s not just immigration laws which causes migration – people move for quality of life, quality of services, etc which the Scottish Government claims to be improving. Although I obviously agree that the SNP don’t have any power over immigration laws and I’d support their position on, for example, post-graduate visas.

      As for the second paragraph, pinning down causation for the impact on the wider economy is obviously going to be very difficult and something I’d leave to economists like the aforementioned Brian Ashcroft. However, it is very patently clear that the net negative impact on *public revenues* is caused by the downturn in the oil industry, I don’t think anyone could deny that.


      1. Really just getting into semantics now. If a low oil price brings about NET higher employment, how much of that are you crediting to “public revenues”? Just the higher take in income tax, VAT etc? The savings to the welfare budget? Etc.

        Point is, oil isn’t the whole economy. It COULD be that the net effect of the positives and negatives of the oil price was positive, but that other factors – which after all account for something like 85% of the economy – outweighed it to create an overall negative. We don’t know either way and it’s silly to say we do without some sort of firm evidence that probably isn’t going to show up any time soon.

        All we can be absolutely certain about is that if even a MASSIVE oil crash, where it loses as much as 75% of its value for a large chunk of the year, only ends up damaging Scottish income by 1%, then the idea that our viability as an independent nation hangs on the oil price is clearly, unarguably, as fatuous as the Yes side always said it was.

        You may well have all sorts of other perfectly fine reasons for opposing independence, but “We’d be totally at the mercy of the oil price” just died on its arse once and for all. Normal countries survive ups and downs of this sort of size perfectly well. The UK did exactly that just five years ago.


    2. First of all, I’ve never said “viability as a nation” and I don’t think anyone sensible has ever said Scotland couldn’t be independent, only that we couldn’t be independent without fiscal detriment in comparison to being in the UK – at least in the short to medium term. That fiscal detriment is more or less caused by low oil revenues as they have, historically, filled the gap between our onshore revenue (pus per capita share of UK borrowing) and spending.

      The whole “unionists claim Scotland is incapable of being independent” is a handy strawman and all, it’s just completely untrue. The argument, at least for people like me who place a lot of importance on the economic case, is that Scotland would be financially worse off outside the union. This year’s GERS have simply confirmed what was already apparent from the previous trends and have destroyed the Yes campaign’s desperate claim that “oil is just a bonus”.

      Also, it’s only a 1% revenue drop in cash terms. In real terms it’s 2.3%. And it is a problem, particularly when you consider that our spending has increased by 1.5% in real terms in the same period.

      As for your argument that we don’t *know* the causation of the revenue drop, I guess we can’t know with 100% certainty but I think it’s pretty unlikely (albeit from my rank amateur point of view). Primarily I’d be basing that on the fact rUK revenues would have been subject to the same economic drags (with less exposure to oil revenue fall) as Scotland and every single actual economist I’ve seen has said that the oil downturn has had a net negative impact.

      If in doubt, rely on the experts I reckon.


      1. What, economists? The dismal scientists? Those guys with the almost unbroken track record of being spectacularly wrong about everything and never predicting a single one of the crashes that have taken place? Man, talk about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

        The idea that No campaigners never say “Scotland couldn’t be independent” is laughable. Just like the fact that sure, they never use the actual WORDS “too wee, too poor, too stupid”, but everything they say means precisely that.

        This week I could quote you a hundred people saying that these slightly-worse GERS figured have “destroyed”, “smashed”, “shredded” and “killed” the case for independence. Well, if the case for independence has been destroyed, that IS saying independence is unviable. If it’s done so because Scotland’s deficit would be unsustainable, that IS saying we’re “too poor”.

        At least have the courage to own your argument. I thought you were at least a bit better than this dull semantic chicanery.


      2. We’re saying it destroyed the case for independence as presented by the SNP in 2014, the one which claimed that we, both individually and as a nation, would be wealthier independent.

        Even the likes of McColm and Massie are at pains to include something along the lines of “of course this doesn’t mean Scotland couldn’t be independent but those who want it should be more honest about the economic implications”.

        It’s not about “too poor”. Just poorER. At least in the short to medium term.

        As for which economists, here you relied on the Fraser of Allander Institute to claim the oil crash was a net positive http://wingsoverscotland.com/a-poverty-of-imagination/ and here http://wingsoverscotland.com/to-cut-out-and-keep/ and here http://wingsoverscotland.com/truth-and-wrongs/ etc etc

        This when the Institute had issued a *forecast* that falling oil prices *might* be a net benefit to the economy. Then the very same people issue this http://www.scottisheconomywatch.com/brian-ashcrofts-scottish/2016/03/fai-economic-commentary-march-2016.html which uses the *actual data* and asserts that “falling oil prices having a net negative impact on Scotland compared to the rest of the UK”.

        You’ll forgive me if it seems rather convenient that you would find a source suitable when it says what you want but dismiss it when it doesn’t.


      3. (1) Massie quite expressly said Scotland’s deficit would be “unsustainable” as an independent nation. I’m afraid that DOES mean the same thing as “unviable”.

        (2) The Ashcroft piece you link to is rather vague, and appears to be treating oil simply as shorthand for the economy in general. I don’t see any detailed analysis of figures there proving that specifically the net overall outcome resulting from oil has been negative.

        (3) But let’s assume it did. Let’s assume it was slightly negative. So what? Economies go up and down all the time. Slight changes one way or the other don’t create or destroy the case for anything, especially when you still didn’t accept that case in the years – not very long ago at all – when Scotland’s balance sheet was far healthier than the UK’s.

        (4) Let’s not pretend you’re above selective use of evidence regarding Prof Ashcroft. When he found – rather by accident – that Scotland had subsidised the UK by tens of billions in UK-debt repayments during three decades when Scotland had basically zero deficit and therefore no debt, you and your pals like dear old Mental Kev stoutly turned your blind eye to the telescope and said “I see no ships”.

        But the one fact you never address, the great big gigantic trumpeting elephant in the room, is that GERS proves nothing about an *independent* Scotland’s economy. It contains billions of pounds in expenditure that an independent Scotland likely wouldn’t face, billions of pounds worth of total guesswork, and billions of pounds in expenditure representing ideological political decisions taken by Tory governments Scotland wouldn’t elect. As a prediction of an independent nation’s finances you’d get more sense out of goat’s entrails.


      4. First of all, let’s not go down the whole “Mental Kev” route. It’s uncalled for and I’ve really no interest in unnecessary hostilities. Quite happy to keep this to the reasoned debate we’ve been having so far.

        (1) – the deficit IS unsustainable. That’s what we mean by “we’re better off in the UK” because without it we’d have to raise more taxes or cut spending (likely both) in order to bring said deficit down to a sustainable level

        (2) – the piece I linked to was Brian Ashcroft’s synopsis of the FAI report. This is the full report if you want more detail – https://www.strath.ac.uk/media/departments/economics/fairse/Latest-Fraser-of-Allander-Economic-Commentary.pdf I have neither the time nor the expertise to read it all and comment.

        (3) – I didn’t accept the economic case because I thought we were starting from a position where pooling and sharing was beneficial, as proven by these numbers. I have absolutely no doubt that there will be years in future where Scotland is a net contributor to the UK and I’ll be happy at that point for us to share our revenue with rUK (again).

        (4) – it’s also patently clear that Scotland was a net contributor in the peak oil boom years (three decades is stretching it) and, of course, had we been independent in 1975 then we would have had lower debt contributions to make. But I don’t see any traction in an argument that says a particular area of the country should be exempt from contributing to the debt when they are in surplus. Are we saying London shouldn’t contribute to debt repayments now? And the UK didn’t start from a position of £0 debt in 1975 so I’m not sure why we start the clock then. To me, it’s an entirely fair position to take that liability for debt repayment is shared on a per capita basis across the whole country.

        Last para / (5) – I think we’ve had this discussion before, not sure. Anyway, at risk of repeating myself, GERS is quite clearly the *starting point*. On a hypothetical independence day 1, the government would face endless possibilities of what could be done. One (incredibly unlikely) possibility is that every single thing would continue as-is in the UK. In that scenario, the GERS figures would (margin of error aside) be the finances of the new independent Scotland. More realistically, every change that a new government made would have £x impact on the base case of GERS – corporation tax cut would reduce revenues in the short term, set up costs would increase expenditure, cutting defence spend would reduce expenditure, etc etc.

        All I’ve ever said is that GERS is the base case. £15bn is the deficit an independent Scotland would have inherited, tell us what changes you’d make.

        As for “billions of pounds of expenditure an independent Scotland likely wouldn’t face”, I still haven’t seen anyone actually detail would this would be. What are we currently spending *billions* on that we wouldn’t need in an independent Scotland?


      5. It would be unsustainable IF THAT WAS THE DEFICIT EVERY YEAR. But it isn’t, any more than the UK’s deficit is still the 11% it was in 2010.

        “£15bn is the deficit an independent Scotland would have inherited, tell us what changes you’d make.”

        No, it’s not. Nobody knows what the deficit would be. Ireland negotiated a zero debt share – if Scotland did the same (and I’m not saying it would, I’m saying neither you or I knows) its deficit would immediately drop by billions of pounds. (Those are the billions I’m talking about, btw.)

        The weirdest thing about the aftermath of the indyref is that you guys are still fighting it in the past. You keep screaming about what would have happened if we’d won and independence was happening next week. But we DIDN’T win and independence ISN’T happening next week, so that argument is of no more use or relevance than “If we’d become independent in 1979 we’d be one of the richest countries on Earth because we’d have a big fat Norway-style oil fund protecting us from recessions”.

        Neither you nor I knows what the outcome of independence negotiations would be. Neither of us knows what the oil price might be by that day, if and when it comes. (Indeed, neither of us knows within any sane margin of error what the oil price will be in a fortnight.)

        The difference is that I’m not claiming I do. You’ve seized on one bad year’s figures as if they’re set in stone for all eternity. I still want independence because I think that IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD TIMES ALIKE, a Scottish Government acting in the interests of Scotland will always be a fundamentally better proposition for Scotland than a UK government acting chiefly in the interests of the City of London.

        Plenty people in England share that view about their own regions too. Their problem is that they don’t have a lifeboat available. We do, but you want to take your chances staying on the Tory Titanic, because statistically it’s still mostly above the water. Good luck with that. I’m planning to row like a bastard.


      6. Of course we would have inherited the £15bn deficit. Here’s George Kerevan saying that exact thing, as it happens – http://www.thenational.scot/comment/george-kerevan-an-independent-scotland-could-use-economic-levers-to-protect-our-vital-public-services.14983?utm_medium=social&utm_source=Twitter&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_term=Autofeed#link_time=1457938922

        Also, Question 45 in the White Paper (p391) – “what deficit will an independent Scotland inherit?” Answer – it’ll be the 2.4% one predicted to be better than rUK’s… while in the union. So if we inherit the good deficit, why not the bad one?

        I agree with that next paragraph though – there are too many people living in 2014 and it’s something I am guilty of myself. In an attempt to say “we were right” (and who the hell wouldn’t?!) there is a temptation to re-fight the same arguments and it’s unhealthy and unhelpful. The Tories are particularly keen on this as they perceive an electoral advantage in being the capital U Unionist party.

        And I’m not seizing on one year’s figures, they just happen to be *this year’s* figures and are therefore prevalent to the points I was refuting in the original article above.

        But the premise of your last two paragraphs is kind of the crux of the argument – I believe that we can make devolution work and that being in the UK with that devolution gives us the best mix of local power and big state financial stability. No-one has ever articulated beyond some fanciful rhetoric what “acting in the interest of Scotland” actually means in practice and there’s been no evidence of a seed change in Scottish policy from small c conservative SNP administrations that would indicate a radically different approach from Westminster would even be implemented, nevermind desirable to the electorate.

        I don’t like all the decisions taken at Westminster but neither do I like all the decisions taken at Holyrood, or Aberdeenshire Council for that matter. I don’t see why I should dislike UK Government decisions any more than Scottish Government decisions just because there’s a larger franchise for the former.

        Plenty of people will disagree with me and I absolutely respect that but voters should be aware of the probable consequences of independence, both positive and negative, instead of accepting the half-truthing and downright lies that the Yes campaign tried to sell us in 2014. All political parties / campaigns are full of it, I would be mightily surprised if you had any objection to people pointing out the bullshit.


      7. “Here’s George Kerevan saying that exact thing”

        You know as well as I do that’s not what he’s doing. He’s using it as a qualified starting point (“these are my own thoughts and don’t represent official thinking from the SNP. I’m using the GERS statistics for 2014-15”) for an analysis of how he’d address a Scottish deficit. Obviously he can’t make assumptions about an unpredictable negotiation process in that context – he wants to tackle the worst-case scenario or he’d be open to easy attack.

        “I don’t see why I should dislike UK Government decisions any more than Scottish Government decisions just because there’s a larger franchise for the former.”

        And that’s the crux of it. You don’t see a democratic problem there, because you don’t see Scotland as a country. You think it’s fine for a *region* to get a government it didn’t vote for, and hasn’t voted for in 60 years, because you can’t break down a democratic franchise to counties and towns and villages and individual streets – you have to draw a line somewhere. Which of course is perfectly correct.

        But almost nobody draws that line outside countries. France doesn’t get to elect the government of Belgium and Germany doesn’t choose the government of the Netherlands. My country is Scotland, not the UK, and I think it should get the governments it votes for. You disagree, ultimately, because you have a different country to me. At the end of the day it’s that simple.


      8. Actually, that’s exactly what Kerevan is doing: “an independent Scotland would face a gap of £14.9bn between public spending and current tax income”. But I take the point about negotiations and, to be honest, quoting George Kerevan as a source on anything makes me feel a bit unclean.

        I’m afraid, however, your last two paragraphs are well wide of the mark with their insinuation that I’m only pro-UK because I’m a “Britnat”. I’m sure there are many for whom this is the case and that the UK is “their country” regardless of any other considerations. I would expect this number to roughly equal the number of people for whom Scotland is “their country” and nothing else matters.

        To me the classification of a place as a country is rather meaningless, both Scotland and the UK. I don’t really care. When I got polled pre-indyref the woman asked me if I considered myself to be Scottish or British. I really found it an awkward question because I don’t “consider myself” to be either. I *am* Scottish and British. That’s just administrative fact. They are adjectives not definitions. If Scotland were to become independent then I would no longer be British, I’d just be Scottish and absolutely nothing would change for me. It wouldn’t affect my identity in the slightest.

        If someone then came to me and said “don’t you think Grampian should be independent and always get the government it votes for, not what the central belt dictates” then I’d consider that in exactly the same manner that I’ve considered Scottish independence.

        To me, belief that an artificial delineation of borders is the sole consideration of what is the appropriate administrative designation of “the franchise that matters” is utterly illogical – whether that be Scotland, the UK or any other country. To discount the wider impact of that decision based purely on “my country is Scotland” or “my country is the UK” is nationalism, pure and simple. I think people aren’t that insular and they made their decision, Yes or No, on something wider, something practical and something meaningful to them.

        I’m sure people for whom national identity is important will find my point of view as illogical as I find theirs but, hey ho, takes all sorts.


      9. I didn’t call you a BritNat and of course you’re “Scottish and British”, as am I (also a European and whatever you call someone from West Lothian). The difference is which of those we consider a nationality and which just a geographical descriptor.


      10. But, y’know, the logic of your position is that we should let Germany choose the government of the UK, because they’ve made a much better job of running their economy and you don’t care about borders and democracy and stuff. Where’s your line?


      11. I inferred the “Britnat” because what you were describing is, to me, a nationalist. Reading it back, perhaps this was unfair.

        Not “let them choose the government of the UK”, no. If we shared the franchise with them, as we share the franchise with the rest of the UK, then we’d all have an equal vote on an individual level. My vote, as much as it can be in a FPTP system, is worth exactly the same as a voter in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

        And I’m pro-EU so I don’t have a problem with sharing sovereignty on that wider level either. If someone suggested a United States of Europe then I’d consider it on the merits of the proposal being made but I wouldn’t be pathologically averse to the idea.

        Incidentally, this is (one of the reasons) why the EU position of the SNP confuses me. If the UK is a “democratic deficit” because Scotland should always get the government it votes for then why are they happy to surrender sovereignty in other areas? The answer, which I would agree with, is that there’s a net benefit from sharing sovereignty. I simply apply the same logic to the UK, although clearly the scale of shared franchise is markedly different.


      12. “Not “let them choose the government of the UK”, no. If we shared the franchise with them, as we share the franchise with the rest of the UK, then we’d all have an equal vote on an individual level. My vote, as much as it can be in a FPTP system, is worth exactly the same as a voter in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.”

        Which was exactly my point. You draw the boundary line around your country, the UK, so that’s where you measure the franchise and whether or not democracy has prevailed. But that’s not my country, and in my country it doesn’t.


      13. There’s a pejorative implication of preference in my interpretation of “my country” which I wouldn’t subscribe to but, in so far as I don’t fundamentally object to sharing the franchise with the rest of the UK or fundamentally believe that the franchise must start and stop at the Scottish border, I guess you could use that distinction.

        Although democracy quite clearly is being followed in Scotland, given the biggest single plebiscite this country has ever held confirmed by majority that people are content to share the franchise with the rest of the UK. Not sure what you call that if not democracy.


    1. Of course you have, dear. You have a nice sit down now, the nurse will be along with your pills shortly. The red, white and blue ones you like.


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