Alexander Kemp is a popular man. The phone in his office on the third floor of the Edward Wright Building at the University of Aberdeen has hardly stopped ringing in months. Mr. Kemp, a professor of petroleum economics, advises the British and Scottish governments on the prospects for oil production in the North Sea.
“The BBC, a Spanish TV team and journalists from Belgium and France have called me,” the Scottish native reports. There is no doubt that Mr. Kemp’s expertise has made him a key figure in the debate over Scotland’s independence, which will be decided in a referendum on September 18.
Scottish nationalists cite the billions in revenues from the oil industry, which they see as the financial foundation of their independence plan. Great Britain is Europe’s second-largest oil producer, next to Norway, and 90 percent of its oil comes from wells off the Scottish coast. But the Scots receive only about 8 percent of tax revenues from their oil wealth – last valued at about £11 billion (€13.7 billion or $18 billion) a year – based on Scottish and British population figures.
The nationalists are betting on the financial resources of Scotland’s oil wealth, even more than on their whiskey, smoked salmon and financial industries.
These oil riches have also spelled prosperity for many of Aberdeen’s 230,000 residents. Helicopters circle the skies over the coastal city all day long, as they ferry workers to oil rigs far out at sea. Outside London, there is no other city in the United Kingdom with more people earning more than £100,000 per 1,000 inhabitants than Aberdeen.
If Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, has his way, all of Scotland will benefit from this oil wealth. The industry will produce “many billions of barrels for many decades,” he said in the last session of parliament before the referendum.
Mr. Kemp disagrees, saying: “It isn’t quite that easy.” As he explains, Scotland will be able to continue exploiting oil reserves off its coastline for at least another 30 to 40 years, but it is also clear that the industry has already passed the peak of the production boom in Scotland, as even the nationalists concede.