In Depth

Bribery or clever politics? North Sea oil now the battleground

Coalition ups the campaign against Scotland going it alone by announcing £100m plant for Peterhead

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SCOTLAND'S First Minister, Alex Salmond, today accused David Cameron of using “bluff, bluster and bullying” against the Yes campaign for Scottish independence.

Salmond was on the verge of using a fourth 'B' word – bribery – but decided to bite his tongue in response to this morning's announcement from the Westminster government that it is going to invest £100 million in a carbon capture storage plant to be built north of the border in Peterhead, whether or not the Scots vote for independence.

Such a plant has been talked about for years. The timing of the announcement - on the day Cameron has shipped the coalition's top team up to Aberdeen for a Cabinet meeting – was clearly intended to remind Scots of the sort of investment from Westminster they will no longer receive if they vote Yes in this September's referendum.

Salmond had no option but to welcome the investment - but you could hear his teeth grinding when he was interviewed about it on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. "Successive governments have said no," he said, "I would have done it ten years ago."

The First Minister grumbled that he was dealing with oil fields when Cameron “was on the playing fields of Eton”.

Salmond might have been tempted to accuse Cameron of further bribery if Today presenter Jim Naughtie has asked him about  the Westminster government's other North Sea oil announcement today: namely, that it intends to fast-track proposals contained in a review by Sir Ian Wood which suggest that, with the right investment, oil revenues could rise by £200 billion over the next two decades.

Until now, Cameron has been reluctant to be seen to be interfering in the referendum debate, fearing the appearance of a southern Tory in Scotland would be counter-productive with nationalists who think that the movie Brave Heart was an advert for modern Scotland. 

Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, reminded Today programme listeners that the Tory brand was “toxic” in Scotland. (It is for this reason that both Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have refused a televised debate on Scottish independence with Salmond - and why the First Minister wants it so much.) 

The decision to take the Westminster Cabinet to Aberdeen today – and announce the investment in the Peterhead plant – comes as leaders of all three parties in London gets increasingly spooked by opinion polls showing that the Yes campaign is gaining dangerous momentum while the Better Together – or No to independence – campaign 

headed by former Labour Chncellor Alistair Darling has been stalling.  

As Salmond put it this morning: "Most people would say it is tightening. It is the No vote that is declining. The Yes vote is gaining ground."

But as Salmond takes his own Cabinet meeting just down the road from Cameron's today, he will have been stung by a poll in the local Aberdeen Press and Journal. It shows that only 17 per cent in the oil town are currently planning to vote Yes to independence, while 65 per cent would vote No.

North Sea oil is now the battleground – and Salmond has his work cut out.

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