Opinion

After ScotWind, raising McCrone again is tough to swallow

by | 27 Feb 2024

The National is marking 50 years since the McCrone report. The Scottish Government seems to be pulling out the stops to make sure we repeat all the same errors.

If you got a National today or checked its website you won’t have missed that it’s the 50th anniversary of the McCrone report. But its coverage is a disorientating read – universally identified among nationalists as revealing one of the great disasters in recent Scottish history, but nevertheless a disaster the Scottish Government seem determined to repeat step-by-step.

The McCrone report pointed out that North Sea Oil would be worth a fortune and would have made an independent Scotland a wealthy country, had it stewarded the resource wisely. There were two giant reasons why that didn’t happen. The first was that London privatised the entire North Sea really early on so the ability to use oil wealth strategically was taken from us.

The second is simply that so much of this natural resource was on Scottish territory but so little of the benefit flowed back here. In fact Thatcher effectively used oil taxation to subsidise her deindustrialisation programme, covering an enormous social security bill as she ripped her way through Scotland’s industrial sector.

There was really only one upside to all of this at the time – which was that Scotland still had enough engineering capacity to capture a fair amount of the supply chain, installation and maintenance work. That was the majority of what we got out of Scotland’s oil resources.

OK, you will no doubt have heard all of this before. So what is disorientating? Well, read Nova Energy Chief Executive Simon Forrest explaining calmly that we’re repeating precisely the same error all over again and then read the article in which Humza Yousaf is interviewed, bemoaning the history of Scotland’s North Sea oil.

Or rather, don’t, because it ought to stick in your craw. The crux of it is Yousaf saying “£400 billion of North Sea revenues were squandered by successive UK governments, with no investment for long-term benefit” and informing us that “The paper by Gavin McCrone may have been written half a century ago, but its lessons are every bit as relevant today”.

Dear god Mr Yousaf, if this was a £400 billion disaster from which we need to learn lessons, can you explain ScotWind to me? I mean like explain it in a way that could fit in a speech which contained the above two sentences?

How would that work? “London privatised our oil so that we couldn’t invest in the future of Scotland and we need to learn from that, so what we’ll do is privatise our renewable energy, except this time we don’t have much of a manufacturing engineering sector so it’ll be the same again but without the supply chain jobs”.

I imagine Scotland is a laughing stock in energy corporation board rooms

Isn’t as catchy, is it? But in some ways it is even worse than that. Because, as the oil and gas lobbyists were quick to point out last week, it’s not only that the corporations who took all Scotland’s oil wealth out of the country are being replaced with other ones, it’s that it’s largely the same companies.

Powerful lobbyists are simultaneously slowing down Scotland’s transition away from fossil fuels and making sure that, whenever it happens, they win. Again. Them and only them. I imagine Scotland is a laughing stock in energy corporation board rooms. In fact I all but know we are from someone who used to be in senior level meetings for one of the big energy companies.

Let me start to work my way through the litany of bleating excuses that comes along with this. First of all, the idea that the oil giants are ‘crucial partners in the green transition’. Well, Scotland is making them that as yet another gift to the oilygarchs. The pace and nature of transition is not being written by the government right now, it’s being written by the oil industry and read out by the government.

I don’t have time to go through the hydrogen battles (Carbon Capture and Storage exists only to greenwash dirty hydrogen and thus slow down the development of truly green hydrogen). I don’t have the energy to repeat that Scotland’s oil industry is on the way out and propping it up makes no sense.

I am weary of writing about the way the corporate world treats Scotland like a lucky dip; them dipping in and out only as they fancy it and always coming out the other end lucky. And above all I’m sick to death of a government which wilfully and intentionally chooses to do the wrong thing and then blames everyone but themselves.

No, the ScotWind fiasco was not the only option, it was the worst option (for Scotland) and the best option (for the big corporations). I mean, explain the price cap to me again? One more time, who holds an auction but tells those bidding that there is a price cap? If everyone in an auction bids the price cap you can be sure someone has screwed it up.

But why rehearse it all here? Common Weal has published a paper with a list of the things Scotland could have done which would all be better than what we did, some much better. Which begs the question, what exactly is going on?

If this Scotland mess isn’t challenged my grandchildren will be paying a price for the incompetence of a group of minor politicians who, in 2021, didn’t have a clue what they were doing

To be fair, this stuff was all above Humza Yousaf’s pay grade. This is another Sturgeon production – I would put money on it that she railroaded through the first scheme she was offered so she could get her photo opp and present herself as the Queen of Green. The Scottish Government should admit that mistakes were made, not brazen it out.

Nothing is changing. No lessons are being learned. McCrone is being repeated right now. If this isn’t challenged my grandchildren will be paying a price for the incompetence of a group of minor politicians who, in 2021, didn’t have a clue what they were doing.

As for Yousaf? I’m afraid he is spiralling further downwards in my estimation. I at least granted him his claim that he was driven by his principles (until it was inconvenient). I’m no longer sure what his principles are. He’s on the left and ‘on the side of ordinary people’, until oil lobbyists want him to oppose a windfall tax on their profiteering.

He is a ‘green leader’ who runs a mile from green initiatives and always finds himself back in that oil. He wants to reset his relationship with local government until he wants to screw them over. He is driven by principles, and he’ll let you know what those principles are just as soon as he’s worked out what he thinks his self interest is today.

When the Tory government privatised Scotland’s oil and stripped us of our potential wealth it knew precisely what it was doing. It was a carefully-calculated strategic attack on Britain’s industrial base – and it worked exactly as planned. It burned Thatcherism deep into the psyche of British politics.

When the Scottish Government does the same with our renewables future it is just confused, lost and out of its league. That is the reality. A group of third tier politicians and a second-rate civil service are making a mockery of all those years where we said ‘never again’ once we saw the McCrone report.

Apparently they’re going to stop being rubbish if we vote for independence, but they’re making a hash of getting there too. I’m really at the point of feeling that if they can’t run Scotland effectively and they can’t deliver independence, perhaps it really is time for them just to leave the building and hand over to someone who at least wants to try. No, I’m not sure who that is. But could they be worse?

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