Footprints of the Dinosaur
FOOTPRINTS OF THE DINOSAUR: From The Province of the Cat, by George Gunn.
Contrary to what certain Tories think, evolution does not go backwards. Reading Sir David Frost’s imbecilic drivel (Daily Telegraph 19/8/22) I was reminded of a conversation I had with some Northern Irish republicans in a bar in Cushendall, a beautiful wee town sitting snug at the foot of the Antrim glens. I said that, to an outside eye, the DUP seemed like dinosaurs. “Aye,” a good Guinness fed face replied, “but they’re dinosaurs that don’t believe in dinosaurs!” But dinosaurs leave their footprints in the mud of history, despite what the DUP and the Tories may imagine.
As the trees in England begin to shed their leaves early in an act of self-preservation due to the lack of water, the English Tories plan to steal Scotland’s water. This is their latest asset stripping scheme. England’s plundering of Scottish resources has a long and hungry history. Whether it is cattle, fish, grain, coal, electricity, oil or people, there is nothing north of the Solway and the Tweed that has not been uprooted, plundered and put on a baggage train or on a fleet of ships and sent south to enrich the English ruling class.
England, at present, is a scorched country. Parched. Her grasslands are brittle brown tinder. All her water providers are privatised and corrupted by paying out £72bn to shareholders while her water of life is literally leaking away from a lack of investment and foresight. Analysis by the Labour Party of data from the English Environment Agency suggests the amount of raw sewage pumped into the seas and rivers by the water companies has increased 2,553% in the past five years. The private water companies have continued to discharge dangerous effluence throughout the hottest Summer on record. Warnings have been issued to holidaymakers to avoid fifty beaches across England and Wales because the sea has been polluted by sewage. It is not just the mystical UK constitution that is swimming in shit.
The UK’s dependency on hydro-carbons is another toxic issue. The energy fallout from the war in Ukraine is a the result of a chronic, almost habitual resistance by successive UK governments to renewable energy and a political addiction to nuclear power. Add to that a decades long subservience to the dollar fed power of US Big Oil and you have a UK energy policy that is ready for nothing, never mind the current crisis. All this while squandering, since the 1970’s, the oil and gas extracted from Scottish territorial waters. Throughout the dark years of Thatcherism in Scotland the bright light of Norway beamed across the North Sea and laid bare for all to see what several generations of corrupt, wilful, idiotic, socially blind and cruel UK government’s have done and continue to do.
According to Damian Carrington the Guardian’s environment editor (25.8.22),
“The excess, unearned profits of the oil and gas industry are astronomical, recently revealed as $3bn every day for the past 50 years. That’s $1tr a year, on average, from the pockets of you and me into the bank vaults of dictators and big oil. It may be the biggest shakedown in history. From the 1920s to the 1970s, a group dubbed the ‘international petroleum cartel’ by the US Federal Trade Commission dominated. Its members were Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Mobil, Texaco, BP and Gulf. Opec was formed in 1960 by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others to challenge it. It succeeded, quadrupling prices by the end of the 1970s.”
Caithness in particular and Scotland in general is close to being self-sufficient in renewable energy. We are a net exporter of electricity, which the companies who generate it have to pay the National Grid to take south to England, then we have to buy it back at ridiculous prices – prices based on the price of gas of which Scotland has the highest average annual consumption on the UK with 25,747 kWh per meter.
The UK is subject, by political choice, to the vagaries of market forces and the free market, a system which has never worked simply because there is no such thing as a free market. All markets – the hydro-carbon one especially – are rigged. In the UK energy users are being fleeced by energy providers and the governments on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall say there is nothing they can do about it. That is a choice, not a fact. The cost of living crisis is not the result of post-Covid fallout or the result of Russia using its gas as a war weapon: it is the result of government policy, namely Brexit and the comprehensive financialisaton of everything (especially the North Sea oil industry), which has exposed the fallacy of “the market” for what it is – a chimera, a ghost, a lie.
The industry price cap, which sets the maximum rate suppliers can charge, is expected to top £3,500 a year from October for the average dual-fuel tariff, an increase of more than £1,500 from April and bills are heading for £5,000-plus in January 2023. What, in reality, we are witnessing is a massive synchronised shift in wealth from the many to the few, the mass impoverishment of the majority whom the elite see as an exploitative resource. According to the Resolution Foundation low-income households are now spending 59% of their budgets on essentials (up from 52% in 2006). This is the road to ruin. The outsized profits enjoyed by oil and gas companies since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were underscored on 25th August when the North Sea’s biggest oil and gas producer announced a 12-fold rise in profits. Harbour Energy said half-year earnings had reached $1.5bn (£1.3bn). Harbour said it would hand an extra $200m to shareholders on the back of the bumper revenues. That, historically, has only one outcome – increased poverty for the majority, resulting, inevitably, in civil unrest, social conflict, probably violent and most certainly prolonged. An unequal society will eventually destroy itself. The capitalists of Big Oil are digging their own graves because they will not change. However the current cash flow orgy will end because hydro-carbon resources are finite. Then what? The six “super-majors” – BP, Shell, Chevron, Total, Eni and Exxon – only spent 1% of its combined budget on green energy schemes in 2018. In 2022 it is a mighty 2%. (Source: NS Energy). The inevitable outcome for them will be their own demise. That they are intent on impoverishing millions of people and choking the planet before they go is the nightmare prelude we have seen this summer.
But, of course, it does not have to come to that, as renewable energy is now the cheapest option in much of the world and could squeeze out gas-fired power stations if vested interests are faced down. Will the Scottish government do it? Not on current evidence. An example of this is their recent ham-fisted leasing of a substantial part of the offshore seabed for a fraction of its true worth to multi-nationals, so that our natural resources and the wealth they produce, yet again, are in grave danger of by passing Scotland altogether with the ultimate losers being the Scottish people. No matter what Nicola Sturgeon or Liz Truss may say, neither government will do very much (one can’t and one won’t) to help the poor and the vulnerable. Even as the consumer capitalist system is falling apart about their ears they will shut their ears, wring their hands and blame external forces for doing nothing – in one of the richest nations on the planet. But then again, what planet is Liz Truss actually on? The latest forecasts are that inflation will hit 18% in early 2023. However unbelievable it may seem to many people, Liz Truss wittering on about tax cuts, will mean that people just like them are likely to freeze and starve to death in the coming winter.
As I, like everyone else, wrestle to make sense out of all this, and wonder how I can afford to exist at all, the past parades before me like some half remembered dream. And I realise, reluctantly, as if the very notion was a cruel confession of failure, that it has happened before. Right on my doorstep. Or beach-step, rather: a people in acute social and pecuniary distress and a government far away and completely out of touch. Only 174 years ago.
In 1848, after several years of scarcity and hunger due to the potato crop failing, what history calls the “Highland Potato Famine”, three hundred and fifty ragged refugees crossed Dunnet Beach on the north coast of Caithness, from the Castletown side, to the village of Dunnet on the other side of the bay. They were mainly Mackenzie’s from Gairloch, Macleod’s from Assynt and Mackay’s from Strathnaver. They had all been evicted from their homes. Many had walked as far as 150 miles to get there. They were seeking sanctuary and came to the gentle white pilgrimage kirk in Dunnet which they knew as “Eaglais an Naoimh Moire”, or the Church of St Mary’s as it was before the Reformation. But the Reformation was a long time ago and the Disruption of 1843 was a recent event and the Dunnet Kirk remained in the realm of the “Auld Licht”, the established Church of Scotland, so it was not even a Free Kirk, and subsequently the doors of “Eaglais an Naoimh Moire” were shut to them. The local people gave the refugees shelter and sustenance as best they could. But they too were struggling.
As starvation, eviction and emigration raged all around the north of Scotland the landowners were busily exporting barley, oats and meal from local harbours to the southern markets. Across Caithness angry crowds surrounded quaysides and piers and confronted the carters and crew who were loading badly needed food onto ships that would make profits for a few. The result was that (literally) a ship-load of soldiers was sent up from England and each harbour was protected by heavily armed red-coated soldiers. In Wick shots were fired and many were wounded. At Castlehill the cargo of meal from a ship was seized by the hungry people. The next day on Dunnet beach two platoons of soldiers brutally broke up a meeting of locals and emigrants who were trying to organise a resistance to their enforced poverty, leaving blood on the sand.
The relief offered to the poor, evicted and starving people by the British government was to work for a daily ration of meal. There was to be absolutely no “handouts”, no “charity”, as that would only encourage “indolence”. Like Liz Truss the Whig government of the day thought that the people did not “graft” enough. Hence the north Highlands are littered with “hunger walls” and “starvation roads”, all of which were of no benefit to anyone save the estate owners. Of the three hundred and fifty refugees who crossed the beach to Dunnet in 1848 over half of them set sail the following year from Scrabster on a “coffin ship” to Canada. The cost: £10, sent to them by relations already in Cape Breton. I went to school with the descendants of those who remained. Too poor to raise the passage. We left our footprints on the playground of memory.
Such imprints can be found anywhere. For example, footprints from the Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur were uncovered in the parched Paluxy River in central Texas recently, as widespread droughts have caused the river to dry up almost entirely. The 15ft, seven-ton creature once inhabited the area over 113m years ago. This will come as a shock to the DUP in Northern Ireland. So it is that the avoidable human follies of the recent past reveal the savage realities of the present, just as certainly as the policies of greed and corruption of this current Tory anti-government is leading the UK to extinction. They are making it impossible for a sizeable percentage of the population to live within their means. But, of course, nations never live within their means, they live within their desires. It is the desire of this UK regime that the poor are fleeced by the rich, facilitated by tax cuts and financialisaton, a thirst for war (Liz Truss has promised to lift defence spending by a little over £10bn in four years from its current £48.2bn, based on figures supplied to by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and by another £12bn or more in the run up to 2030) and an addiction to nuclear power (£20bn for the new Sizewell C reactor on the Suffolk coast). We still have Trident on the Clyde and the world’s current arsenal of about 13,000 nuclear weapons is a sword of Damocles hanging over us all.
These are the footprints of the modern dinosaurs. Our political leaders are not prepared for what is coming because they do not care, protected as they are by their class and their money. Will history even notice their footprints?