The Saltire flag of Scotland flys over the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.
The Saltire flag of Scotland flys over the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. - 
Listen To The Story

David Brancaccio: Supporters of cutting Scotland loose from the rest of the United Kingdom kicked off their independence campaign today. The aim: dissolve the 305-year-old union with the rest of Britain. There are pushing for a vote on the question, perhaps within two years. A key part of the U.K.'s wealth is the black gold under the North Sea which would be Scottish territory.

John McLaren is an economist for the Centre for Public Policy for Regions in Glasgow.  Professor McLaren, good morning.

John McLaren: Good morning.

Brancaccio: Tell me how fossil fuel production, oil and production in the North Sea play out in this debate about an independent Scotland.

McLaren: It's kind of the most important, or one of the most important,elements of how Scotland would do and how wealthy it would be post-independence because about 80 to 90 percent of North Sea oil would probably be apportioned to Scotland. The U.K. would lose that, but it would also lose to some extent the money that it currently transfers to Scotland.

Brancaccio: And it is really quite complicated because while some Scottish politicians that favor independence talk about Scotland becoming the wealthiest country in the world, oil revenues often go to multi-national corporations that are based all sorts of places.

McLaren: Yes, the idea that Scotland would overnight become some sort of very rich country -- much richer than it is now -- is really spurious. What would happen is that it would look like Scotland's GDP and wealth had increased a lot, but actually most of the North Sea is owned by overseas companies, as you say. So really all you would get is the tax take on that, all the profits would pretty much go overseas.

Brancaccio: And even if there were some sort of political independence, the ties between Scotland as a country and the rest of the U.K. would remain extensive.

McLaren: It seems like the ties would be pretty extensive. It's looking like Scotland might still be part of the sterling currency. It's looking like the Queen might still rule in Scotland as well. It's like a modern form of independence, if you like.

Brancaccio: John McLaren is an economist at the Centre for Public Policy for Regions in Glasgow. Thank you very much.

McLaren: Thank you.

Follow David Brancaccio at @DavidBrancaccio