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Reserve strength

Brian Taylor | 16:41 UK time, Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Each August, I like to chair the occasional gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

It's a return to my literary roots and a chance to escape from politics. Plus the ice cream on offer in Charlotte Square is excellent.

I recall chairing Alexander McCall Smith who had just published his latest detective tales from Botswana.

A notably eager publicist was urging him to plug his new book at every opportunity. She even suggested he might brandish a copy at strategic moments.

The estimable professor, a thoroughly charming chap, ignored her entirely. No doubt accidentally, he placed a newspaper over the copy of his book.

Quite deliberately, he never mentioned the work once, dealing with an eclectic mix of topics from Nietzsche to orchestral music to Scottish history.

Worthy task

Habitually, I take the McCall Smith line with regard to publicity: less is more. However, I will break that habit with regard to a documentary on the telly tonight, prepared by my esteemed colleague Hayley Millar.

It concerns North Sea oil. When first commissioned, the purpose was to subject the history of the black, black oil to investigative scrutiny. In itself, a worthy task.

When broadcast, the programme coincides with the re-emergence of oil prices as a predominant political issue: an issue of enormous and lasting salience.

Hayley's key finding concerns the extent of available reserves. She has been told by experts that between 25 and 30 billion barrels could still be recovered over the next 40 years.

Rising prices and new technology can bring more difficult and distant finds into play.

Rising prices

Which brings us back to core questions confronting Scottish and UK politicians?

Is Alex Salmond justified in demanding a "share" of the increased take from the North Sea prompted by rising prices?

Or is it bogus to spotlight a single tax when high oil prices may depress other sectors of the economy and hence revenue?

Does Scotland have a structural financial deficit, as suggested by official UK Government figures in the past, even taking oil into account?

Or is that over-estimating the downside - and under-estimating oil?

Would Scotland thrive with control of the oil revenues? Or would much more be lost in the by-going?

What will Scotland do when the oil runs out? Under sustained devolution? Under independence?

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