The National:

FOR many folk in Scotland, it will come as no surprise – as now finally revealed in papers held secret at the UK National Archives at Kew for the last 40 years – that Labour ministers in the 1970s plotted to transfer North Sea oil to “English waters” in order to sabotage Scottish independence. After all, London governments have used dirty tricks against every move towards independence, in every British colony.

The only difference between the 1970s and now is that a rattled Boris Johnson administration is more open about its use of the British state machine to thwart democracy. Papers revealed at the National Archives show James Callaghan’s Labour government set up a secret “publicity and propaganda” unit to counter the SNP.

Today, Johnson has been open about setting up a taxpayer-funded “Union Unit” at Number 10 to orchestrate propaganda against Scottish independence. Laughingly, the Union Unit exploded when its members fell out, and the only Scot on board (former Tory MP Luke Graham) resigned.

READ MORE: Labour ministers launched 'propaganda' unit to fight independence, documents reveal

In the 1970s, the old Labourites - schooled in the Cold War and trades union bureaucratic infighting - were made of sterner stuff. Labour knew that British industry was clapped out after years of under-investment by City financiers. The discovery of oil in Scottish waters offered an unexpected economic windfall that could save British capitalism. Provided, of course, that the uppity Jocks - who had suffered the worst in unemployment from the failure of British industry - did not walk off with the prize.

Labour could have introduced radical devolution and shared the oil equitably across the British nations, to modernise the UK economy fairly for everyone. But that did not happen.

Instead, Scottish Labour backbenchers at Westminster, anxious for their sinecures, fought tooth and nail to sabotage even the mildest of political devolution. Despite this black propaganda, Scots voted (narrowly) for a Scottish Parliament in 1979 - only to see Prime Minister Callaghan refuse to abide by the democratic decision.

We now know that behind the scenes Labour ministers were plotting to steal Scotland’s oil regardless. The papers reveal one key figure in these moves was Foreign Secretary Anthony Crossland, a former military intelligence officer.

Under international convention, the sea border between two separating states is defined as a line drawn parallel to where the land border reaches the coast. In other words, the putative Scots-English sea border should run a simple line due east from Berwick-on-Tweed, along latitude of 55° 50' 00"N. That would leave waters rich in oil and fish in Scottish ownership.

Instead, the newly published secret papers propose plotting “a true median line between Scottish and English waters”. In other words, continuing the land border (which runs north easterly at 45%) into the sea. This has the effect of adding huge chunks of prospective Scottish waters to English control.

READ MORE: How Scottish independence could re-ignite the north-east energy sector

The secret Labour documents note: “It must be assumed that the Scots would reject this; and they would have pretty cogent arguments for rejecting it.”

Jim Callaghan was replaced by Mrs Thatcher and the plot to change sea boundaries seemingly disappeared. However, in June 1999 - lost amid Tony Blair’s devolution settlement - Labour quietly introduced legislation to alter the “legal” maritime boundary in a way that transferred significant Scottish waters to English jurisdiction. Hopefully, this will be challenged in any future independence negotiations.

Are there still secret files to be published? Undoubtedly yes.

In recent years it was revealed that over 1500 files had been reported “missing” from the archives. In 2017, Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor claimed that MI5 was purposely withholding files from the National Archive relating to Margaret Thatcher.

I wonder why?