Is the Scottish government manipulating their Oil and Gas Analytical Bulletins?

oil bulletin 2015

Oh dear. The SNP don’t do oil and gas well, do they?

The industry’s either fundamental to the future of an independent Scotland (Scotland’s Future, before the price crashed from $150/barrel to $50) or merely the icing on the cake (most pronouncements since the oil price fell this time round).

If you haven’t noticed, the latest stooshie is about the Scottish government’s Oil and Gas Analytical Bulletin – June 2015.

As it happens, I have a past interest in the industry as a public sector observer (you can find the previous comments in my blog on the industry first here, then here).

I don’t share some of the criticism of the content of the latest bulletin made in the mere 24 hours since it has been released. In fact at first glance it looks a competent job and it merits the adjective ‘analytical.’ It is not itself a political production. If it were, it wouldn’t cite UK government and in particular Office of Budget Responsibility figures in the way it does.

There are however two significant problems with it.

The first is the fact that it was published on 25 June. In case the significance is lost on you, that is the very last day the Scottish parliament sat before its summer recess, which now lasts until the end of August. There was a little local difficulty about the actual time of publication and whether or not opposition parties could have asked a question about it during the last First Minister’s questions before the recess at midday. But that apart, to put it into the public domain on the last day before the recess seems calculated to raise suspicions about ‘burying bad news.’

The government of course claim that the date of publication is sheer coincidence, ‘That’s just when it was ready.’ Not for the first time, I’m minded to fall back on that good old Scottish phrase ‘Aye, that’s right.’ I do not believe for one moment that government communications staff do not maintain a list of forthcoming publications that they keep under review for possible sensitivities.

Well, it’s done and it’s neither the first nor last time a government will fall under suspicion of massaging the news.

Unfortunately, the second problem with the bulletin, or more accurately the series of bulletins, will exacerbate those suspicions. It might be described as three linked technical issues.

  1. The bulletins published so far – March and November 2013, May 2014, and June 2015 – have not appeared on a regular cycle. There may be a case for saying that you need to produce a few before you know how often and when a bulletin should be published. But they should know by now. I would have thought that, as with many official research and statistical publications, an annual cycle is appropriate with publication always in the same month (and not just before a parliamentary recess).
  2. After four editions, now is also the time to think of a consistent content and format for an annual bulletin. My preference would be for a standard set of sections followed by one or more special topics related to particular current issues.
  3. If the bulletins are to be accepted as authoritative statements, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be, they need to be properly attributed. At present, the only attribution on the document itself is what appears at the head of this blog post. But why not include the part of the government structure that produced it, their contact details, and ideally the names of the authors?

Taken together, these actions would not only elevate the publication to a higher level of authority, they would eliminate the suspicion that the politicians in government are somehow manipulating the bulletins for their own ends. Of course they could discontinue publication altogether to remove potential embarrassment but that would not be very sensible from any point of view.

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One Response to Is the Scottish government manipulating their Oil and Gas Analytical Bulletins?

  1. I used to analyse the oil industry for a fund management company, and agree with your three technical issues.

    Liked by 1 person

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