Oil fund from day one, says Swinney

Bicester Advertiser: Alistair Darling has criticised Scottish Government plans to set up an oil fund Alistair Darling has criticised Scottish Government plans to set up an oil fund

Scotland could set up a planned oil fund from day one of independence, according to Finance Secretary John Swinney.

The Scottish Government wants to establish the fund to manage fluctuating offshore tax revenue and says Scotland will be in a "prime position" to begin investing in it immediately following independence if there is a Yes vote in September.

However, the pro-union Better Together campaign said it could only be established using borrowed money and makes "no sense".

On Wednesday, SNP ministers will publish figures which they say will show that "under any scenario" an independent Scotland will start life with strong public finances and that an independent Scottish government will have the option of starting to invest in an oil fund from 2016.

According to the Scottish Government, Scotland has on average accounted for 9.5% of UK tax receipts over the past five years when North Sea oil revenues are included.

This is higher than Scotland's 8.4% of the UK population, it said.

It estimates that in cash terms, Scotland's "relatively better" fiscal position compared with the UK means people living north of the border would have been £1,600 better off over the last five years.

Alistair Darling, head of Better Together, said that because Scotland spends more than it raises in taxes the creation of an oil fund would rely on borrowed money.

Mr Darling said: "The Scottish Government's proposal is that they want to set up an oil fund. They announced this last year but within days it became clear from their own figures that in order to set up a fund, because you are spending more at the moment than you are getting in, you'd have to borrow that money to establish the fund.

"It makes no sense whatsoever to start borrowing money to put into a fund. You're not establishing an oil fund, you're establishing a borrowing fund which would cost you far more, and that additional money would have to come out of the money that we're presently spending on services elsewhere.

"You could not establish an oil fund without having to borrow that money and that then has to be funded by taxation, and that would be an absolutely ridiculous position to get yourself into.

"We don't have to take this risk, we don't have to face a cut in spending or a rise in taxes because we are part of the United Kingdom and we benefit from a situation where resources are pooled across the UK, resources are directed where they are best needed."

Speaking ahead of the publication, Mr Swinney said: "There is no doubt that as part of the UK we have lost out on the very real benefits that an independent country could have secured.

"If we pursue the policies that only an independent Scotland will be able to pursue then we can deliver an oil fund from the point of independence and secure an economic bonus that can only be delivered by independence.

"The Norwegian Oil Fund began in the mid-1990s with only modest payments and is now the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, worth more than £500 billion - while Scotland's oil fund stands at zero, as a result of Westminster mismanagement of our resources.

"By taking decisions for ourselves we can give Scotland's economy the boost that is needed and that will never be delivered by Westminster."

Former chancellor Mr Darling underlined that while oil revenues currently account for around 15% of Scotland's tax income, the North Sea's reserves are in decline.

He said: " We are in no doubt that oil has been a massive benefit to Scotland and the United Kingdom over the last 40 years. There is still oil in the North Sea, but everybody knows that it is slowly but surely diminishing.

"This is a powerful case as to why Scotland is far better off being part of the United Kingdom, when you can pool resources that you've got to make sure that, for example, when oil starts to decline, as it is, you do not have to immediately start either cutting spending or putting up taxes in order to deal with the consequences of the reduction in oil revenue.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be in a situation where we end up being so reliant on a volatile and diminishing commodity like oil that you end up having to tax more or cut more in order to make ends meet. It's a ridiculous position to be in."

Mr Swinney added: "This week we will publish figures showing the strength of Scotland's public finances at the point of independence and the huge economic opportunity that a vote for independence will open up.

"The debate over Scotland's future is now firmly between those who choose to talk down Scotland's potential and those of us who know that with the wealth-creating powers of independence we can take our natural resources and our human talent and build an even stronger nation."

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