2007 - 2021

A Positive Vision for Scotland

Today the National is publishing the McCrone report. Editor Callum Baird writes: “Gavin McCrone’s 1974 report, which was delivered to the UK Prime Minister 45 years ago, said that Scotland – if independent – would “tend to be in chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree and its currency would become the hardest in Europe with exception perhaps of the Norwegian kroner”.

If it acts to open the eyes of people to the duplicity of the British government to undermine and deceive then this can only be a good thing. This is a historic and important document that reveals the dysfunctionality of the Union operating against the economic interests of one whole part of this “family of nations” (sic).

Only yesterday the strategic importance of oil sea revenue was flagged up in a hilarious article by Andy Critchlow, head of energy news for EMEA at S&P Global Platts (click on image right).

It’s a bit of a giveaway replete with some killer lines:

“Oil is Britain’s thin red line against a hard Brexit. The North Sea provided an economic buffer during the “winter of discontent” of 1978 and the “Black Monday” stock market crash, which almost destroyed the City a decade later. It may have to serve the same defensive purpose again if Theresa May, the Prime Minister, bungles a deal to leave Europe, or even worse, fails to reach an agreement.”

“The North Sea makes Britain entirely unique within the European Union, which is otherwise mostly barren of “black gold”.

The irony klaxon was sounding all over social media yesterday, though I suspect the publishers of the Telegraph would have been deaf to it.

There’s no need to repeat the epic mismanagement of this resource over time, or replay the envious glances across the North Sea to Norway and its sovereign oil fund. There’s no doubt that the lies, distortion and hypocrisy of those who simultaneously argue that oil is insignificant and then salivate at the prospects for propping up the British economy (again) are remarkable, but there are some real problems with framing the case for independence in this way.


1. The first and most obvious problem is that by fetishising oil we are ignoring the biggest problem we face as a species. The National doesn’t seem to have anything to say about this at all. Instead, unlocking oil is presented as a sort of magic rather than the most significant contributor to our mass decline. This is odd.

There’s really no need to link to another article about the realities of climate breakdown but here goes … “The 20 hottest years on record have all happened within the past 22 years; the five hottest were the last five. Yet the beaches and the beer gardens fill up, while the papers describe the weather as glorious and expend more words on the latest Westminster soap opera than on the looming climate crisis.”

Arthur’s Seat, Saddleworth Moor (Manchester) and Ashdown Forest in East Sussex are all on fire – because in February moorland has become a tinderbox. But you know all this.

Or it may be that you take the view that the emissions from North Sea Oil are too insignificant to make a difference to global C02.

If you are taking a that line as a Scottish nationalist you are perversely mimicking the “too wee, too poor, too stupid” line that you rightly mock others for. Do you really think Scotland lacks agency and is insignificant in the world?

Or maybe you take the contorted line that Scotland should use all the oil but make a fund to – at some unidentified time in the future and in forms not specified – convert our society and “go green”?

2. It locks us into a grievance story. I know that people think grievance is motivating and if enough fire and fury can be generated the scales will fall from people’s eyes and liberty will be had for all. It doesn’t really work like that.

Building a credible positive long-term vision for our economy is far more likely to persuade people to back an independent future.

3. It’s not new. We published this in 2012 and its been written about many many times since 2005.

Rising prices, the secret report, and the black black oil

4. Focusing on oil (or any energy resource) without looking at the ownership and means of production is one-dimensional. If we start from the basis of: What resources do we have and how can we manage them? we should also start by thinking through what is the best model for owning and controlling these resources and these public utilities? Otherwise it’s not Scotland’s it’s BPs and Exxon’s Oil.

Also absent from any of this debate is how oil – and the North Sea in general – works as an energy mix – and how we can transition to clean renewable energy sources.

If the argument is about jobs and economy – then the idea of a Just Transition needs to be present.

In Katowice at COP23 Nicola Sturgeon announced that she was forming a “Just Transition Commission.” She said Scotland had created 50,000 jobs in wind and tidal energy production. She said leaders have to tell people that “there was nothing to fear and everything to gain” from the transition—new jobs, higher skills, and better wages. “It can be unsettling, but it has to be done.”

Ahead of a Scottish Government debate in January this year the Just Transition Partnership argued that he concept of a just transition is central to building popular support for action to cut emissions and must:

  • Put protecting workers’ livelihoods, creating new jobs, and delivering a fairer Scotland at the centre of the move to a low-carbon economy
  • Be embedded across and supported by Government priorities and infrastructure projects including the Climate Change Plan, the Publicly Owned Energy Company, the Scottish National Investment Bank, future economic strategies and the work of the enterprise agencies
  • Involve trade unions, communities and environmentalists at the heart of the process
  • Be put into statute under the Climate Change Bill

5. It’s backwards facing. Scotland has new and emerging economies and industries that need to be nurtured, boosted and celebrated.

6. It’s out of sync with the world. This week Spain proposed a $53 billion public investment in climate change plan – and – in January Germany, one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, announced it was to shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change.

Imagining a future is a key part of building a case for independence. Basing that vision on fossil fuels which are undermining the basis for our existence is mind-blowing. Thinking strategically and long-term has to be part of the independence vision, not engaging in the equivalent of burning your furniture.

I agree absolutely with Callum Baird when he says that:

“We are being dragged out of the EU against our will. Our children – my own daughter is just five months old – may not have the same right to travel, live and work in Europe that our generations were so lucky to have. It is unforgivable that Westminster and the UK parties should attempt to impose this on us.”

The reality is that if Brexit is a disaster for our children and our future, fueling runaway climate change is a cataclysmic event.

If the McCrone report exposes that the UK governments cannot be relied on to tell the truth about oil reserves and revenues, then its beholden to tell ourselves the truth about future and the choices we have to make. These choices are clear and an independent Scotland can be a positive and viable part of the changes we all know we need to confront.


Comments (12)

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  1. Stewart Connor says:

    The content of the mcCrone report has been known to many in the Independence movement for a number of years. Good to see at long last its getting a wider audience.

    1. Lorna Campbell says:

      A stunning factual piece was done on the McCrone Report about ten years back or so, by BBC Alba. The programme also featured a piece on the changing of the maritime border, also excellent. These will both be in the BBC archives, and we should be demanding that they be reshown on BBC Scotland and even BBC 1 or 2, with voiceovers to augment the Gaelic content. If they come back with an excuse about their no longer being available, we’ll know we’re being had again. Craig Murray, former ambassador, and a very experienced borders negotiator, has also done a piece on the maritime border change, on YouTube. I’m sure he would be more than happy to assist the BBC.

  2. Lorna Campbell says:

    I don’t really think that it what The National is trying to achieve, Mr Small. It has always supported fresh ideas about how we harness our natural resources to the future, and renewables must be a large part of that. The UKG has cut funding to a number of renewable initiatives to concentrate on nuclear power, and this, again, does Scotland no favours. One would expect an independent Scotland to invest heavily in new clean energy sources and research.

    I think the point of publishing the report is to show what might have been, and, yes, I, and everyone else, appreciates just how backward-looking that can appear. However, if the Scots, indigenous and new, are never told about the past and how it has compromised the future, we may as well forget everything that has gone before and shut down all history. Perhaps we really do not learn from history, but, then again, perhaps we do to an extent. If nothing else – because we cannot turn back the clock – we will have learned a valuable lesson about Westminster and Whitehall and the Thames Embankment. We must also remember that oil does not equal fuel full-stop: it is an ingredient in a massive number of other common items that we might have to wean ourselves off in the longer term, but ‘wean’ is the operative word.

    Yes, we must face up to the truth about the mess we have made of our planet; the younger generations deserve no less. However, the theft of our natural resources was a crime against our people, and there is no way to get round that one. Others across the globe are suffering under this imperialist burden right now. Venezuela? Whatever rights or wrong can be laid at the door of the two successive left-wing governments, it is the oil that the right-wing wants to get its hands on, and, as with Scotland, it will be used, I have little doubt, for purposes never sanctioned by the people of that country. This was a scam on a massive scale and The National is right to highlight it – if only for the reason that future generations were robbed of their birthright. We must remember, too, that other Scottish resources are being harnessed to benefit the elite and not the people of Scotland, and we are still being lied to about the oil value and the new wells. If every oil-producing country in the world banded together to shut off oil supplies and if every coal-producing nation did the same, if every nation stopped allowing cars and lorries on our roads, the planet might well be a far better place, but it would also knock us back to the Stone Age, so we must find new sources, invest in them and in research, to replace these old ones, and that was not done in the 1970s and 1980s, and it is certainly not being done today either.

    1. Jane Kidd says:

      Superb comment, Lorna Campbell. Balanced and perceptive.

    2. Fat Boab says:

      Well said!

  3. James Dennis says:

    The McCrone Report, albeit ‘old news’ to those slightly better informed, is worthy of repeat and repeat until every person who has been exploited by its redaction understands the underlying nature of those who seek to exploit them. Oh, how the narrative changes…In 2014 the ‘Black Gold’ was running out and in 2019, there’s plenty left for at least 20 years and will save the UK. I want this taught in our Schools after Independence…to replace all the History lessons on the British Empire and its glory days.
    But, as you say, framing the Independence support around this is ignoring the reality of a future without it…and on that point we already have an established presence Internationally. Renewable energy and an open source attitude to innovation is already creating a large dent in Oil dependency and the energy production landscape is exciting both in its progress so far and for its future.

    As we have seen again and again, a UK Government fails Scotland at every turn…what matters to me is that to be able to tell ourselves the truth about the future and the choices we have to make, we first must be free and Independent…because it is only then, that any choice we make is going to have any substance and not get buried in an archaic system designed to keep us silent.

  4. Ian says:

    ‘Building a credible positive long-term vision for our economy is far more likely to persuade people to back an independent future.’

    The mismanagement / greed in the way that the UK has been run for decades is the flipside of independence and as such it cannot be ignored in the case for independence and examples of it should be highlighted. North Sea oil is just one of many examples of astounding economic waste in the UK. Marshall Aid, ‘light touch financial regulation’, privatisation sell-off’s, PFI’s to name a few of the bigegr examples. Brexit is only the latest example in a long line of how badly the UK has been managed. The reality is that had the UK not been managed so badly for most people and for so long, the desire for independence would be much less than it is. Highlighting the UK’s repeated failures is not a ‘grievance story’, it’s building a wider awareness of the realities of the UK’s economic history and the consequences of such policies. As the saying goes, those who forget the past will be condemned to repeat it.

  5. Justin Kenrick says:

    Excellent piece.

    (1) We need to understand the way we’ve been lied to in the past and are being lied to in the present.

    (2) Scotland needs to lead the world by insisting on stopping fossil fuels being extracted from the ground so that we and our children have a future rather than are burning our planet to oblivion.

    THAT is the key move we have to make now, and if it takes self determination for Scotland to be able to show the way then we all – nationalists and non-nationalists of every stripe – will need to get behind it.

  6. William Ross says:


    Though I disagree with most of what you say, this is an interesting piece.

    I will only make one point. I have absolutely no idea what Critchlow is talking about. I do not fear WTO rules in the slightest but I have no idea how North Sea Oil could decisively help us if we had problems. We are an oil importing nation ( I mean the UK). Oil and Gas is a very important business for Scotland but it is not an industrial base even for Scotland and certainly not for the UK.

    I have worked in oil and gas for nearly 40 years.


  7. Alistair Taylor says:

    Good article, Mike.
    Scotland could be one of the world leaders in showing a way to transition from oil reliance.
    It could also be a leader in peace. (The removal of nuclear weapons, is one example).
    A friendly nation. Frugal (careful), and living with respect for the biosphere.

  8. tartanfever says:

    ‘Imagining a future is a key part of building a case for independence. Basing that vision on fossil fuels which are undermining the basis for our existence is mind-blowing. Thinking strategically and long-term has to be part of the independence vision, not engaging in the equivalent of burning your furniture.’

    You’re absolutely right.

    Unfortunately none of this will play in the political boxing match of a new independence referendum. It’s all about the economy – have we really forgotten what the campaign was like for those years leading up to 2014 ? Can you imagine the headlines across the Sun, Scotsman, Herald, BBC etc ‘ Loony Nationalists pin hopes on fledging industry that will destroy an independent economy in months’ – no doubt with pictures of Sturgeon dressed as Windy Miller from Camberwick Green.

    Of course, the really crazy thing is pinning your ‘green’ hopes on another independence referendum (which it is not clear if there will actually be one) while we have a very limited time to make moves to reduce carbon emissions globally according to many experts. I’d probably start writing articles and complaining to Westminster – who actually control the oil industry rather than the Scottish Government, and have a presence on the global stage.

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