OH how the hard-line Unionists gloated, month after month, as the price of Brent crude sank relentlessly, and the North Sea oil companies pleaded poverty. Scotland would have been bankrupt for generations had it voted for independence, pronounced an endless parade of Tory and Labour politicians. A “northern banana republic”. A “third-world basket case”.

They didn’t even bother to conceal their glee, despite the horrendous human consequences. I regularly visit Aberdeen and the north-east in connection with work, and I’ve been struck by the resemblance to Glasgow in the early days of the Thatcher government, when a proud industrial city was brought to its knees. Rising crime, alcohol problems, house repossessions, relationship breakdowns and a general spirit of despair have hung heavy in the air of a city that has lost 15 per cent of its population in three years, and where unemployment has risen by a quarter. But for some, that was a small price to pay. After all, as the Daily Record put it in an editorial as recently as September, “the oil crash has killed the economic case for independence”.

The big oil companies poured petrol on the flames so to speak. Their slash and burn tactics involved mass redundancies, wage cuts and the driving of a multitude of small businesses to the wall. A staggering 160,000 jobs have been lost in the North Sea oil industry in just three years. But suddenly, it’s all celebrations and laughter at the top. Prices are recovering rapidly, now standing at $70 a barrel compared to $50 this time last year. Two huge new oil fields have been discovered. BP expects to double its North Sea production by 2020.

And best of all for the oil barons, share prices are rocketing. Last week, Shell announced a 119 per cent rise in its annual global profits to $16 billion. BP is expected to announce this week that it, too, has recorded a huge profit surge. This sudden and dramatic turnaround will no doubt be welcomed with a deafening silence from the leaders of the Unionist parties. In declaring the death of the North Sea oil industry they jumped the gun.

For the independence movement, the news will provoke a more complicated response. For the SNP, it will seem like total vindication. The doom-mongers have been proven wrong and Scotland is back on track to build a prosperous independent state. For the Scottish Green Party, on the other hand, the prospect of a new oil boom is abhorrent. Fossil fuels, including North Sea oil, should stay in the ground, they say.

I understand that position and support the party’s criticism of the fossil fuel industry. I also recognise, at the risk of being labelled an unprincipled pragmatist, that in times of deep austerity, no governing party anywhere in the world will refuse to extract the oil on their doorstep. So, what do we do about North Sea oil? First, I would suggest that instead of being cheerleaders for the oil industry, the independence movement has to start asking some tough and searching questions.

Oil industry leaders, we should remember, have never been friends of the Yes side. Some of the sector’s most prominent figures intervened decisively in support of Better Together during the 2014 referendum, I suspect because they feared – and still fear – the likely shift of Scotland to the left under independence. They’ve had successive UK governments under their thumbs since the first drops of oil were discovered in the North Sea back in the 1960s, as was brought out brilliantly in John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and Black, Black Oil.

One reason why Norway has amassed a treasure chest worth £100,000 for every single woman, man and child in the country is that they set up a state-owned oil enterprise back in 1972, taking a 51 per cent stake in all new oil fields. This ensured that not only tax revenues, but a huge chunk of the lavish profits, would benefit future generations.

Returning to the present day, how can an industry that claimed to be on the edge of ruination just months ago now be celebrating soaraway profit margins? Are its economic forecasters so clueless that they could not anticipate what lay around the next corner? Or did the oil strategists deliberately exaggerate the scale of the crisis in order to brutally restructure the industry at the cost of hundreds of thousands of livelihoods and an avalanche of bankruptcies of small businesses?

I’m no expert on the oil industry, but from where I stand, this looks to me suspiciously like a smaller scale version of the aftermath of the banking crisis, which led to the rich becoming richer than ever before, while millions continue to face bleak austerity to this day.

So turning to the future, I would suggest that, even at this late stage, Scotland can still take a leaf out of Norway’s book. There is no reason I can see why a future independent government cannot take control over all future oilfields, including the two new discoveries, by taking a 51 per cent stake.

We could go further and pledge that all taxes and profits that flow into the Scottish exchequer should be ring-fenced for progressive environmental projects. It could be a way of funding, for example, the roll-out across Scotland of a national free public transport system which, as well as reducing our carbon emissions, would have far-reaching economic and social benefits. Or how about starting a massive programme of solar panel installation and home insulation?