Jim Sillars: The game has been rigged from the start

Drilling for oil in Scotland's waters. Picture: comp
Drilling for oil in Scotland's waters. Picture: comp
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Scotland is truly a strange country. There has never been a rational discussion about the role of North Sea Oil in our economy. Plenty of speeches, but very few based on calm reason about the black stuff.

There is a reason for this, because when it started coming ashore in the 1970s it became imperative for Labour, Tory and the Liberals to scorn its importance. If they did not, then the SNP slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil” would see the idea of a rich independence take off and become unstoppable.

So, we had the infamous Gavin McCrone internal Scottish Office memorandum spelling out just how rich we would be kept secret.

In place of the truth Scots were placed in a prison of lies about oil. We were told it would soon run out, that there was not as much there as the SNP claimed. One Labour stalwart, Janey Buchan, who became an MEP, said on television that it could not be Scotland’s oil because we did not put it there. Margo MacDonald’s opponent in Govan, Harry Selby, said the same thing in a debate. The whole Unionist parties’ agenda was to talk down its importance.

One tactic ensured that any oil tax revenues were not accorded to Scotland. The Westminster government set up a separate North Sea account. The fish that swim in and around the oil fields and are landed in Scotland go into the Scottish national account, but the oil that flows past them in pipes and lands in Scotland does not.

Then there was Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of the British National Oil Corporation. In doing so, she not only ensured that none of the actual profits from extracting oil came to a public body, but with no public oil company as a window into this new industry, we in Scotland became blind about how it was run. To this day, knowledge about the oil industry among the Scottish population is abysmal. We have deliberately been kept in that prison of lies, and kept ignorant.

Did you know that there are 570 oil rigs working the North Sea? Did you know that fields that were discovered 20 years ago but not commercially viable due to inadequate technological developments, are now being exploited? The Minerva field is one of them, in which Norway is investing £4.2 billion. Did you know there is oil and gas in the Firth of Clyde, but that was kept a secret because the Trident submarines would not be able to navigate their way to sea round such obstacles as oil rigs?

Did you know that many rigs are due to be decommissioned, and that is a second bonanza worth £10.3bn worth of work in the coming ten years, and worth a total of £28.7bn by 2040? Work that will create well-paying jobs – if we get our fair share of it?

Did you know that Denmark demands, and gets, a 20 per cent stake in every new licensed oil project in Danish waters, and we get nothing? Did you know the 27th licensing round in 2012 produced 224 applications, the highest yet? Did you know that while 41 billion barrels have been extracted, there are another 21 billion barrels still in there, and probably more as exploration continues?

I would bet my pension that the vast majority of readers do not know these facts about the oil industry, which is why our people can still fall for the No side argument that it is diminishing, the price will fall, and keep falling (they never, ever say it will rise), and we should discount it as a factor in our economic assessments of how to vote in the referendum.

Just consider this vital fact: that 21 billion barrels of oil is far more valuable to a nation of five million people than it is to a UK of 60 million. It will be even more valuable if we create a Scottish national oil corporation so that, as well as the tax revenues from companies engaged in production, we are also involved in production to get more profit to our nation.

The personal is not the political, George

Debated with George Galloway on BBC Newsnight on Monday. He seems obsessed with dislike of Alex Salmond. Even insisted that I, too, hate the First Minister. He asked me to state my dislike on a scale of one to ten. I replied “zero”. My differences with Alex are about policy, not personalities. I am looking forward to giving him a cup of coffee when he visits our flat this week. No sugar, no buns, so he can keep that new slimline look.


The recent Crimea referendum is not the first. In 1990, people voted for a separate Soviet republic. It was declared illegal. In 1994, people voted for dual Russian-Ukrainian nationality. Declared illegal.