GAVIN McCrone is a talented economist. He has given his name to two reports – one kept secret in the 1970s, and another on teachers’ pay and conditions, very public at the turn of the century.

Professor McCrone always claimed to be surprised by the monumental kerfuffle which emerged when his report finally saw the light of day almost 20 years ago, via a well-aimed and early use of the full provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Privately, however, I think he was quite pleased.

Read more from our McCrone 50th Anniversary special edition here:

After all, it was a well written and brutally honest assessment of the prospects of an oil-fired independent Scotland in the 1970s. Written as a memo to his then political masters in first the Heath and then the Wilson governments, it must have come like a bolt of tartan lightning to the convinced Unionist ministers in both big parties as they read the following conclusion.

“It must be concluded therefore that revenues and large balance of payments gains would indeed accrue to a Scottish Government in the event of independence provided that steps were taken either by carried interest or by taxation to secure the Government 'take' ...

"Undoubtedly this would banish any anxieties the Government might have had about its budgetary position or its balance of payments. The country would tend to be in chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree and its currency would become the hardest in Europe with the exception perhaps of the Norwegian kroner."

The National:

In so far as these people were aware of McCrone's own views, they would only strengthen the impact of his advice. Gavin McCrone had been the Unionist side of a celebrated and high quality exchange in the economic journals between two of Scotland’s then brightest young economists of the 1960s. The nationalist end of that debate was held up by the truly exceptional David Simpson.

At any rate the Unionist ministers did with the document what governments tend to do with inconvenient truths. They buried it as deep and dark as they could. As then Labour chancellor Dennis Healey engagingly admitted in later life: “I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of [Scottish] nationalism ... I think they were concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it." 

Read more from our McCrone 50th Anniversary special edition here:

And that of course is why the revelation of the report had such an impact when it was finally uncovered in 2005. Not just because it focused renewed attention on Scotland’s resource wealth but it confirmed the bad faith of the Labour and Tory parties – they had publicly dismissed Scotland’s economic prospects in the full knowledge that their best private advice was dramatically to the contrary – not so much perfidious Albion as perfidious Unionism. 

The dramatic revelation of the McCrone Report was part of the process of destroying the credibility of Unionist political parties, whose reflex action is to run their country down to protect their political interests.

Gavin McCrone’s own political views did change a tad over the years, but he has never been a nationalist. In the run up to the referendum he was very helpful to me in dismissing the silly naysayers who were claiming that oil and gas wasn’t really worth all that much, and that there was nothing left. He must be smiling at the latest klondyking efforts from a Tory government in issuing hundreds of development licenses for an oil province they said had been exhausted 10 years ago!

The National: Owners Petroineos announced the closure of Grangemouth oil refinery in November

In a book published two or three years ago he saw Brexit and borders as a real problem for a newly independent state. However, Gavin McCrone has always been too bright to ever claim that Scotland wasn’t viable as an independent country, and always too responsible not to come forward with solutions. Thus his realisation that a new Scottish currency and the European Free Trade Association EFTA should now be attractive economic and trade options for those advocating independence. 

It is good economics and indeed good politics for the national movement to pay heed to people of quality such as Gavin McCrone.