Jim Sillars: Roger Mansell, man who hurt Scots

The future of Grangemouth was at risk last year following an industrial dispute. Picture: Neil Hanna
The future of Grangemouth was at risk last year following an industrial dispute. Picture: Neil Hanna
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I am going to tell you about a man named Roger Mansell. He is a very important figure in Scottish history. You have never heard of him, and neither had I until eight days ago.

No one ever elected him, yet he has had a profound effect upon our economic and social life. He could not be regarded as a hero up here, but south of our Border they looked upon his actions with great approval. The action he took is a salutary lesson when we let someone else rule our land, as The Proclaimers song Cap in Hand puts it.

Chic Brodie, an MSP from Ayrshire, had picked up stories about things that happened in the 1970s and early 1980s in and around the coastal areas of the Firth of Clyde. They were about oil and gas under its waters. He spent a long time digging into files in the National Archives, and what he found staggered him, as it did me when I saw what he had discovered. First, that there are large deposits of oil and gas there. Second, that the knowledge of that was kept secret. I was a Labour MP in Ayrshire for part of that time, and along with my colleague David Lambie, had questioned the government. We MPs had no well-funded research facilities in those days, and there was no Freedom of Information Act we could use to prise open information. The government was able to deny, and keep it secret.

As well as the scientific evidence of oil and gas deposits, Chic unearthed a letter showing the importance of that man Mansell. It was a letter of September 1, written by a David Pogson, which referred to a letter Mansell had written to the Department of Energy on September 17, 1981. Pogson notes that in Mansell’s letter there was “This blanket refusal to agree to any rig under any circumstances rules out testing the area’s hydrocarbon potential and I would expect that only very compelling reasons would lead the MoD to such a request.” That’s it. Mansell, from the MoD had compelling reasons to keep us ignorant of the Clyde potential, because if there were oil rigs there, the nuclear submarine could not navigate safely through the Firth out to the open sea.

When challenged on this new information recently, Michael Heseltine, who was Defence Secretary at the time, said the UK strategic needs trumped the development of a new oil and gas industry in the West of Scotland.

Not long ago, at Grangemouth, we saw one man threaten to close Scotland’s refinery. Five million of us were powerless to stop him if he decided to do so. One man, Mansell, didn’t need to threaten, he just kept us ignorant, and acted in London’s interest which just happened to be against Scotland’s economic interest. Mark that date of his letter, 1981. That was when Margaret Thatcher was destroying our industrial base, and we badly needed a new industry to stop our unemployment soaring. But, as someone else ruled our land, we were kept ignorant and powerless. There’s a lesson in there come 18 September.

Independence means no Trident, that means a new oil and gas industry, rig building, supply vessel building, on-shore as well as off-shore well paid jobs in a supporting engineering supply chain. The referendum is about power. We didn’t have it when Mansell ruled, we can get it now.

Missile protest just a bad yolk

I HAD an egg thrown at me in Edinburgh when campaigning on the Margomobile. Suggested the thrower would have been better taking it along to the food bank where there is never anyone present from the No camp to tell people with no money and no food that they are better together.

Privilege has price

Twenty-two new Lords were appointed last week. Michael Farmer (who like Roger Mansell you have never heard of) was one. Cameron claims that Farmer’s peerage, had nothing to do with the £6.5 million he gave to the Tory party. They jail people for that kind of stuff in China these days.

Trade war not the answer

THE objective of the sanctions on Russia is to cripple its economy by closing access to international capital markets. Not, you will know, to stop selling French aircraft carriers to the Kremlin.

Russian state and private companies have to roll over a total of $161 billion over the next 12 months, with new loans. As Russia’s banks get some 50 per cent of their funding from Europe, our banks will lose big fees and commissions.

What if Russia says “OK you won’t lend to us – it’s your fault we can’t roll debt over, so we are defaulting on the lot”? A new huge European bank crisis.

Better that they all start talking, than engaging in a trade war in which no one wins.