The other person on the line from the studio in Bath was Stuart Campbell, custodian of Wings Over Scotland and a crowd-funded SNP apologist. If you're just interested in the facts you can skip the next section.
I recognise the term "crowd-funded SNP apologist" may seem rather dismissive. I use it only because during the broadcast Stuart referred to me as "some dog food salesman". It was a predictable attempt by him to deflect from the point being discussed by getting a rise out of me and I wasn't going to waste valuable airtime by biting.
In his rapid-rebuttal blog post immediately after the interview he refers to me as "an amateur blogger with a keen interest in Pedigree Chum". Quite why the fact that I'm an "amateur" blogger (translation: runs real businesses and does this in their spare time) is considered relevant I don't know. He's a "professional blogger" which presumably means he'll have the time to be far more informed and better researched than I am ...
Oh and the business of mine he's referring to? It doesn't sell Pedigree Chum - but then Stuart never has been overly bothered about factual accuracy
You can listen to the part of the broadcast I participated in here. It was an interesting debate (do listen if you have time, the segment was about 15 minutes long).
The conclusion on question one was pretty unequivocal. The statement made by Sturgeon that we were testing was:
the projections the Scottish Government made were in-line with [chuckle] all [/chuckle] external projections for prices and for revenues …This statement was shown to be false.
Stuart from Bath asserted that the statement was in fact true because the price assumptions used were in line with (among others) the OBR. Unfortunately - despite being a "professional" blogger invited on to comment on this specific question - Stuart appeared not to know what the revenue forecasts he was defending actually were.
I observed that at the time of writing the White Paper the £7.9bn oil revenue assumption the Scottish Government used for 2016-17 was £5bn higher than the £2.9bn the OBR were forecasting at the time. I suggested that it was therefore clearly incorrect to suggest that the SG forecast was in-line with all external projections for prices and revenues.
[I also pointed out that they weren't even in line with the OBR on price - at the time of the white paper the OBR were forecasting $97 versus the SG's $113 - but that was beside the central point.]
I showed that the fact that the forecasts were not in-line with others' was clear at the time of the referendum by quoting the IFS May 2014 statement on "Oil: The Continuing Source of Disagreement"
The main point of disagreement is the different forecasts for revenues from North Sea oil and gas used. Our figures and the Treasury’s figures are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projections. The Scottish Government report instead uses their own – higher – forecasts for North Sea revenues.Stuart countered with some predictable ad hom against me and accused me of "obsessing with the OBR's projections" as opposed to "everyone else". Unfortunately he wasn't able to cite a single alternative oil revenue forecast made by anyone else to back up his assertion. At the time of writing he has still not (either on twitter or his blog) been able to cite a single alternative forecast that would back up the statement.
I've checked the SNP's website - they're famed for the speed of their rebuttals but I see nothing there to support the FM's assertion.
I've gone back to read the Scottish Government's Oil & Gas Bulletin from March 2013 which includes the £7.9bn figure for 2016-17. The only other revenue forecast they refer to is the OBR (in the 5 page document the OBR is mentioned 10 times).
We've established that the £7.9bn forecast was not in-line with the OBR and that the OBR (who are relied on by HMRC and the IFS among others) is a very significant "external forecaster".
So the statement about being in-line with all external forecasters when related to revenue forecasts in the White Paper is demonstrably false.
What interests me now is: were they actually in-line with any credible external forecasters when it came to forecasting North Sea Oil revenue generation in 2016-17? I'm sure they'll be able to dig out some from somewhere, but the fact that they haven't been able to yet speaks volumes.
For completeness: the second point under debate was something I agreed was - as narrowly stated - true because it was a truism. Sturgeon said.
Well, I've said our growth in onshore revenues over the next few years is projected to [chuckle] significantly [/chuckle] outstrip the decline in offshore revenues ...As I pointed out - if you're flexible enough in your interpretation of a "few years" to include 8-10 years - then of course underlying GDP growth will eventually replace lost oil revenues. The point I attempted to make was that if you have to use all of the GDP growth over the next 8-10 years merely to plug the gap left by oil you can't use that GDP growth to invest in public spending. A corollary of this is that the fiscal gap that exists between us an the rest of the UK - widely referred to as the "black hole" - wouldn't be closed because of course the UK's GDP is also growing.
Stuart suggests that because I accepted Sturgeon's statement was a truism this somehow represented (I'm directly quoting his subsequent blog post here)
"categorical agreement from the Yes and No sides alike that actually the falling oil price makes an independent Scotland MORE economically viable, not less"I mean this is really desperate stuff.
He justifies this because he quoted an unrelated BBC report (which I've now found here) which did indeed say:
The Scottish economy will continue to pick up pace, despite the lower oil price having an adverse impact on the oil and gas industry.
The Fraser of Allander Institute's regular forecast shows the boost to oil users in Scotland outweighs the harm to North Sea producersIt turns out that report was dated March 2015 (so nearly a year out of date) and also stated
The University of Strathclyde institute's report's conclusions run counter to the view of the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney.
He said he expected the UK economy to be helped by lower oil prices, while the Scottish economy would not be
So I've had a quick check to see what the Fraser of Allander Institute are actually saying now (rather than nearly a year ago). I confess I've only skim-read their latest Economic Commentary but I can't find anything in there that backs the assertion Stuart makes. Here are some highlights that caught my eye;
For 2016, we have also revised down our forecast to 2.2% from 2.3% in June, in recognition that the slow down in the rate of recovery will continue into 2016 as exporting continues to be difficult due to the high pound sterling and because of the lingering effects on Scottish onshore activity of the low price of oil.So whilst there's recognition that there is a positive demand boosting aspect to the fall in oil price, I see nothing there to suggest that it makes "an independent Scotland more economically viable".
As noted below, the effect of the slowdown in the oil & gas industry due to the low price of oil is also affecting the service sector in Scotland much more than the UK, for obvious reasons. And that is one contributory factor to Scotland’s weaker service sector performance recorded here
In Scotland, weakness in the service sector has been affected by the onshore implications of the fall in the price of oil hitting business services in particular as well as mining and quarrying.
The Survey also reveals the impact that the low global market price for Brent crude oil is continuing to have on the Scottish economy, with the performance of oil and gas service businesses dampening results in the Financial and Business Services sector.
Domestic demand in Scotland and the UK continues to be boosted by low inflation, helped by the fall in the price of oil and some other commodity prices, with the fall in the oil price being key, further boosted by the low price of imports due to the strength of sterling
The rather obvious point here is that from the low point of now (with oil revenue this year estimated to be only £0.1bn) the economy boosting effects of lower oil price may be net positive - but relative to the indyref case that was presented (assuming £7.9bn annual oil revenue) it's frankly preposterous to argue that the chronic decline in the North Sea oil industry makes "an independent Scotland more viable"