It is one of those tales that keeps getting told long after it has been debunked, a lie that just won’t die. Scotland, the story usually goes, is the only country in the world to ever strike oil and get poorer.

There is something mesmerising about this classic one-liner, a favourite meme of “cybernats” – and even the odd MSP – during the independence referendum campaign.

The tall tale is, of course, too glib to be true. Lots of countries, as even a cursory glance at world headlines reveals, have become poorer after discovering oil or gas. Scotland, as if this needs to be said, is not one of them.

But, wow, this myth has been both potent and durable. It is what we reporters sometimes call a zombie fact, an untruth that lives on after it has been killed.

Google it! This walking dead of a meme is still being shared this summer. It shuffles through Scotland’s dumb and tribal social media politics, arms outstretched, jaws snapping.

This falsehood has crept in to the letters pages and columns of newspapers, blogs and many real-life chats. It was cited, as fact, in the Wee Blue Book, a pro-independence pamphlet produced before the 2014 vote by blogger Stuart Campbell, aka Wings over Scotland.

The meme has become – and hopefully this does not sound too grand or overly technical – a disinformation narrative. And one, moreover, based not just on a grievance but also on exceptionalism.

There are lots of people who will dismiss such memes as meaningless nonsense, something essentially trivial and not worth attention; as “just Twitter”.

Me? I want to know where they come from. I want to know why they are so appealing that they survive factual debunking. And, as naive as this sounds, I want us to think about how we develop a political and media culture where those who spread untruths do not get rewarded with retweets, likes and crowdfunding.

That last question is not going to get answered today. Or, alas, any time soon. But Ewan Gibbs can help us with the first two.

An economic historian at Glasgow University, Mr Gibbs thinks he has traced the myth’s origins back to what he calls the “intensity and ferocity of the North Sea Oil debate” in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.

Mr Gibbs has found something very close to the meme in a 1983 general election leaflet from the late Gordon Wilson, the force behind the controversial but relatively effective “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign of the 1970s and the then leader of the SNP.

Mr Wilson’s campaign literature – for his Dundee East seat – claimed Scotland “must be the only country ever to find oil and to have become poorer”. The leaflet was published six years after a newsletter for the breakaway Scottish Labour Party, led by future SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, predicted exactly such an outcome.

“As an historian, I think it is important to debunk fake history,” Mr Gibbs said after rooting out these documents. “But I also think it is important to try and explain why people believe what they do. There is a reason why that line that Scotland is the ‘only country in the world to get poorer after striking oil’ feels powerful even though it is demonstrably untrue.”

That reason? The deeply and sometimes viscerally held view that Scotland was ripped off over North Sea oil. This is an article of faith for older Scottish nationalists.

Indeed, plenty of non-nationalists, as Mr Gibbs stressed, also thought the natural resource was squandered. That argument, he says, has “merit”. Oil, it goes, bankrolled Thatcherism: it paid for the ‘brew’ as unemployment soared during Tory free market reforms.

Overall the Scottish economy did not shrink over the first oil boom decades – despite some nasty recessions. But, as Mr Gibbs said, working-class families in Mr Wilson’s Tayside seat may not have felt better off.

It was therefore tempting to think of oil as something that made Arabs rich – or already wealthy Norwegians even wealthier – and to wonder why Dundee did not feel like Kuwait or Stavanger.

Yet even 40 years ago economists knew that oil could be a mixed blessing. The term Dutch disease was coined in 1977 after manufacturing and exports in the Netherlands struggled with the boom in the value of the guilder after the discovery of gas.

Now we tend to talk, more generally, about a “resource curse”. Take Venezuela, the country with more oil than any other. It began industrial-scale production early in the 20th century and suffered its own Dutch disease. By the late 1940s Venezuela had recovered to become one of the richest countries in the world. Now, after decades of political corruption and mismanagement, millions of its citizens have fled its poverty and its brutal, authoritarian, kleptocratic government.

The early Scottish nationalists wanted to present oil as a pot of gold, as a completely unproblematic bounty. So had to pretend they had not seen the skin and bones figures of starving people in oil-rich and wannabe independent Biafra. That is why a meme was born that ignored the Netherlands, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq and all those Middle East petro wars – and the reality of Scotland, albeit slowly and falteringly, getting better off.

Of course, we do not know how a newly independent Scotland would have handled oil. We can only guess how it would have coped with an “embarrassingly” overinflated petro-currency, as predicted in the infamous McCrone Report.

"There was an assumption that a newly independent Scottish state in the 1970s would have been able to develop structures that allowed it to take the opportunities presented by the North Sea,” Mr Gibbs said. “But Scotland was not Norway. It did not have decades of independence behind it.”

Now a new generation of independence supporters rejects the very idea of an ecocidal petro-state. For me, the old “found oil, got poorer” meme is a sort digital archaeological artefact. It is a hangover from another age, from an old inward-looking populist nationalism which pursued oil autarky and ignored the rest of the world. It is time to kill this zombie.

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