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Scotland’s first minister has dismissed as “nonsensical” the idea that Scottish independence would undermine exploitation of North Sea oil and gas.
Alex Salmond told the BBC on Monday that for an example of a small nation with one of the most successful oil and gas industries in the world “we only have to glance across the North Sea to Norway”.
“I just think that we should have consistency of [energy] policy, Scottish-based policy,” he said.
Separate meetings of the London and Edinburgh cabinets will take place on Monday but both will meet in the Aberdeen area – Scotland’s oil industry powerhouse.
They come after an opinion poll for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper found strengthening support among Scottish voters for remaining in the UK.
The ICM survey found the number of people intendeding to vote No up by five points to 49 per cent from its previous poll a month ago.
However, John Curtice, Scotland’s most high-profile psephologist, said the result should be treated with caution because of difficulties measuring support among younger voters, which might have exaggerated support for independence in the previous ICM poll.
“The best judgment we can make is that so far there is insufficient evidence to suggest the currency announcement has made much difference to the balance of the Yes and No vote,” Prof Curtice wrote.
David Cameron, who will be in Aberdeen on Monday to chair the cabinet meeting, has offered his wholehearted backing to plans to boost North Sea oil and gas production, opening another line of attack against Scottish independence.
The UK prime minister has accepted the main recommendations of a review into getting the most out of the North Sea. Experts think the changes could generate £200bn for the UK economy and recover up to 4bn extra barrels.
The prime minister will tell the Scottish people that the “broad shoulders” of the UK government are able to support investment in the industry.
Downing Street warned on Sunday that volatility in the oil market “would dramatically affect a small country’s budget” since it would be unable to absorb the impact of falling revenue. “Scotland benefits as part of the UK from being able to pool resources,” Mr Cameron will say.
The Scottish government has said it would want to establish an oil fund to smooth out volatility.
Mr Cameron’s focus on the benefits to Scotland’s oil industry follows a concerted campaign, by all three main parties, to rule out the Scottish National party’s proposal for a post-independence currency union with the remaining UK.
As politicians from both sides made their pitch to Scottish voters, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, said on Sunday he would co-headquarter the new energy department for an independent Scotland in Aberdeen and Glasgow.
Mr Salmond said a vote for independence was “an unrivalled opportunity to boost our energy wealth, support employment and grow our economy” and said he also backed the creation of a new North Sea regulator, as recommended by the Wood review. The review was commissioned last June from Sir Ian Wood, former head of Wood Group, the oil services supplier.
“The North Sea has suffered from poor stewardship from the UK government to date, and the time has come to address that. Sir Ian has confirmed that fiscal instability has been a significant factor in basin underperformance in the North Sea,” said John Swinney, the Scottish government’s finance secretary.
The measures in the review, which the UK government will accept and fast-track, includes the creation of a new independent regulator to supervise licensing and to ensure greater collaboration between firms to explore and develop oil- and gasfields. It also calls for greater collaboration between government and industry.
The UK government’s endorsement of Sir Ian’s review of the oil industry comes as coalition ministers decamp to Aberdeen – only the second time the full cabinet has met in Scotland in more than 90 years. Mr Salmond will hold a separate meeting of his cabinet in nearby Portlethen.
Angus Robertson, SNP’s leader in Westminster, said on Sunday that the British prime minister was chartering “Scare Force One” to Scotland – “so that Westminster can once again talk down an independent Scotland”.