THE astonishing potential oil wealth in the North Sea was kept hidden by the UK Government – but a new series from The National will set out just how damaging this has been for Scotland and dig into solutions for the future.

The McCrone Report – a government memorandum delivered weeks before the General Election of February, 1974 – was not made public due to the boost it would inevitably have given to the Scottish independence cause.


The SNP saw their first real electoral successes with the “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign during two General Elections held in 1974, with their vote share growing from 20% and seven seats in February of that year to 30% and 11 seats in October.

The report was compiled by Professor Gavin McCrone, then chief economic adviser at the Scottish Office, who sent it to the Labour government in 1975.

While the issue of Scotland’s North Sea resources has stayed in the public eye, the political landscape has shifted completely.

The planet is gripped by a climate crisis, with scientists warning that all production and exploration for oil and gas must stop, while most countries, including Scotland and the wider UK, are pivoting towards net zero.

Despite this, the UK Government opened up a licensing round in the North Sea for more than 100 projects to boost domestic energy supplies, citing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as its reason.

But while the UK finds itself in the midst of a Tory-driven cost of living crisis, with people paying soaring energy bills while oil and gas firms return billions in profits, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has reached a staggering figure of around £1 trillion in assets and is used by the government there to fund social projects.

The suppression of the McCrone Report has undoubtedly had an impact on Scotland and its future, and The National’s new series will take an in-depth look at how the country has been held back by damaging Westminster policies.

What is the McCrone report?

Some 49 years ago, the then prime minister of the UK, Labour’s Harold Wilson, received a report on the astonishing wealth beneath Scotland’s North Sea – but this was hushed up for decades to keep down independence support and allow Unionists to rubbish Scotland’s economic potential.

The report has been described as “political dynamite” and it has been said that it transformed the economic case for independence when it was made public.

In October 1970, BP struck oil 110 miles off Aberdeen in what was later to become the giant Forties field. This and later discoveries coincided with a massive rise in global oil prices during, and in the aftermath, of the Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli war, which meant even marginal fields off the Scottish coast became viable. The SNP leadership grasped the political potential and ran with it, leading to their successes in the 1974 elections.

What should readers expect from our series this week?

The National previously published the full McCrone Report in 2019 to draw attention to the scandal inflicted on Scotland.

We’re publishing the full report again, but going further. We’re digging into exactly how the squandering of our oil wealth has harmed Scotland – to the extent that its ramifications are being felt during the cost of living crisis – and how the UK Government is threatening Scotland’s ability to move to net zero.

Over five days, our reporters will be bringing you exclusive in-depth content, setting out the historical context of McCrone’s work, through to the present-day impact, and on into the future.

The National’s editor Laura Webster said: “Nearly 50 years ago, the prime minister at the time was given the McCrone Report, which set out the astonishing wealth of Scotland’s oil.

“It was hushed up to suppress independence support. We are publishing it in full and going further, exploring how being in the Union threatened our economy, our people and our environment.

“This is not about the past. This is about the future. The McCrone report and its legacy are a piece of living history, and our series will set out how the decision to keep that information secret from the people of Scotland has brought us to where we are now – in the midst of a cost of living crisis, with energy bills soaring through the roof.

“All of our exclusive stories will be free to read on our website this week, with no paywall in sight, as we hope to shine a light on how an energy-rich country such as Scotland has been held back by Westminster.”