THERE is life in the old dog yet, and the potential to put that life to work to help transform a generation of lives for the better.

Some 30 years after we were all told North Sea Oil would barely last a moment, the Oil and Gas Authority has published estimates of recoverable reserves of 20 billion barrels. To put that in context that would be roughly four to five years of production at Saudi Arabian levels. Finite of course and a source of energy we seek to be at the forefront of transitioning away from. But a potentially significant source of benefit to the country, even now.

The recent UK Budget included projections of tax revenues from the North Sea at nearly £15bn over the next six years. This of course is but a whisper compared to the trillion dollars the Norwegians now have saved. Their fund owns 1.4% of all the world’s listed companies, with all the influence and soft power that goes with that reality. No pomp, no circumstance, just sustainable value.

The UK spent every penny as if it were repeatable. The greatest economic policy error of the last century.

When oil was discovered the UK political and policy response was to downplay the scale of the prospect and it has never stopped – even now, almost £500bn of tax revenues later according to the Institute for Public Policy Research. “It won’t last, is uncertain, is volatile and could damage us just to manage the windfall.” You’ve heard all the versions of it.

Politically, in my estimation, that “grand lie” has hit home for too many but especially those who are persuadable towards a realistic independence case, especially now.

That said, I have always felt uneasy with any argument that life could somehow become free and easy without effort. In no walk of life is that the essence of any message of true independence, either personal or political. Independence is about equipping ourselves as individuals – and as a country – with the tools to better ourselves by our own effort, talents and choices.

If you try and sell an argument that independence means a free and easy route to happiness because of oil, printing money or borrowing ever greater amounts of debt, then you will lose because people will not believe it. Nothing drops in our lap, we have to make the effort to succeed on the back of clever choices and learning from the best in the world.

This means that independence will be a transition from the situation we inherit that we wish to change to a better future that will be worth the effort. That it will be no effort cannot be true, that it will be a better transition than we face now with the UK status quo is ever more compelling by the day. We need to unify around truth, transparency and realism underpinning world class levels of ambition and hope.

Those of us who have been making the case for independence for decades have the battle scars that teach us that this is true. For the first time in my life, a majority of us now believe an independent Scotland would be economically better off in the long run.

For the SNP and the broader independence movement it boils down to this choice:

Do we want to live in an echo chamber of the like-minded, convincing each other of our ideological purity and in doing so digging a deeper trench between ourselves and the people we need to bring with us to progress?

Or do we want to make an honest, frank and realistic case about what it will take to transform Scotland fundamentally over a generation, recognising the realities of the starting point and the world we live in today?

I humbly suggest the latter is the only possible way forward. We must not let our desperate desire for haste hamper the process of bringing the persuadable with us. We have to be clever, truthful and self-confident. Camp out on the extremes of our country’s debate and you will soon find it is a lonely, noisy and ultimately fruitless place to be.

So, what to do with the windfalls to come from oil and anywhere else? The Sustainable Growth Commission recommended a new Fund for Future Generations managed by the new Scottish National Investment Bank.

We should also consider the opportunity for the new SNIB to participate in equity stakes on the new oil production efforts as they are developed – a real miss in UK public policy of the last decades.

And with the resources that flow, one target for investment should be capitalising the projects and dare to risk investing in people in the hardest pressed communities in Scotland to engage them in the economy and jobs.

A good example is the Sistema project in Stirling, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, reaching children through the joy and discipline of music. The prize is not, ultimately, music tuition, which is fantastic in and of itself but different – it is economic inclusion. And we won’t know if it has worked until their children are born and live better lives. It is an economic participation project a generation long in intent.

It and many like it struggle for funding year to year, especially when core and immediate priorities on local authority budgets are so pressing. We should consider national funding and capitalising them with a balance of certainty and discipline so that they can dare to try tending to people and changing lives rather than buildings, which has been the failed focus of so much inclusion effort for decades.

A fraction of £15bn could go a long way and what better way to bear risk than on fixing the deep-seated exclusion of post-industrial Scotland? That is a more realistic route to Nordic levels of equality success than others I have heard suggested.

I have always said there is no pot of black gold at the end of the independence rainbow but there is a toolbox. That is the whole point.