Recent reports have apparently confirmed what many of us have suspected for some time, that there is oil and gas under the Firth of Clyde in quantities which make it more than worthwhile to extract.
I remember hearing of it in the early 80s, but then everything went quiet and the prospect of a Weegie oil boom vanished along with much of Scotland’s traditional industry. There was mibby some oil, but it was too wee too poor and too stupid to become independent of the ground – ground which not coincidentally was controlled by Westminster.
Obviously the Firth of Clyde is a lot smaller than the North Sea, but it was still expected that the Clyde could enjoy if not a boom, then at least a moderately biggish bang. What we got instead was a big fart blown in our general direction from the Ministry of Defence.
Even in the early 80s it was known that the MoD was not keen for oil companies to go sticking their drill bits into the Clyde, possibly in case they came up with some top secret radioactive contamination.
Despite the nuclear risks, the oil company’s marketing people thought that “Clyde Oil, it glows in the dark” could be a workable slogan. After all, it worked for Ready Brek. Instead of a liability, it could have been a unique selling point. Clyde oil with added Faslane lets you fire up your central heating and light your home for free at the same time. Or you could have got an x-ray whenever you filled up your petrol tank. Would have saved the NHS millions if you don’t count the radiation posioning.
But the MoD didn’t want any civilians poking their noses into the murky waters of the British nuclear deterrent, its costs, its dangers, and its contamination. They’d just purchased some extremely expensive submarines and some even more expensive missiles. So the Clyde was to be left fallow, and the expensive nuclear deterrent was left defending an industrial wasteland that looked like the Russians had already nuked it.
It wasn’t enough that Westminster destroyed Scottish industries, they were also hell bent on ensuring that we wouldn’t be allowed access to our own waters and our own resources in order to stick a plaster on the gaping wounds.
In September 1983 the Glasgow Herald published a brief story, Ayrshire MP David Lambie had written to then Energy Minister Alick Buchanan-Smith asking him to clarify whether the Ministry of Defence was blocking oil exploration off the West coast. Buchanan-Smith was one of those posh Scottish Tories who would eventually go the same way as the Clyde’s oil boom, so there is a small amount of justice in the world.
By February 1984 the paper was reporting that the MoD was indeed blocking exploration in the Clyde. David Lambie accused then Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine of blocking drilling licences.
This was the second attempt to explore for oil and gas in the area. BP had carried out some initial investigations in 1981, but was blocked by the MoD. Even after their second attempt was rebuffed, the company kept up the pressure to allow exploration to continue. Like they’d do that if the amount of oil and gas was insignificant.
Now SNP MSP Chic Brodie has reopened the issue, and it is clear that the economic potential of the Clyde was sacrificed to meet the demands of the MoD’s nuclear submarines. They didn’t want anyone to know just how rubbish they were, nor did they want annoying questions about the uselessness of the UK’s supposedly independent nuclear deterrent, or how it might not be independent after all. A non-independent nuclear deterrent based in a non-independent country, there’s a sort of logic there.
The UK wanted its nuclear subs, the people of Glasgow wanted jobs and economic opportunities. There could be no clearer illustration of how when the needs of Scotland clash with those of Westminster, Scotland loses. But that’s how the Union works. We’re locked into a Union where our interests are always going to be secondary. The arguments over the Govan ship yard are just the most recent example.
An oil boom in the Clyde might have brought much needed jobs and investment to a West Coast reeling under the onslaught of Thatcher’s industrial amputations, although all the dosh would have ended up in the Treasury’s coffers and we’d have been assured it was an insignificant amount anyway.
Shame for them really, because they missed a trick. Instead of Better Together and its pals scaring us with the dubious prospect of Shetland and Orkney deciding they didn’t want to be part of an independent Scotland, they could have been threatening us with an independent Millport, and telling us we’d need a passport to go doon the watter to Rothesay. They could be telling us there was almost no oil left in the Clyde, barely enough to cover the cost of a radioactive Loch Fyne haddock.
Instead what we have is more evidence of the arrogance and disdain which Scotland is subjected to by our masters in Westminster, evidence that Yes campaigners will ensure is made known widely before next year’s vote. And we’ve been left with unexploited oil and gas reserves that we could develop for ourselves when we finally get rid of the chancers.
The UK is founded upon the short-term gain of London and the City on the back of the long-term consequences to everywhere else in the United Kingdom. Now that strategy is coming back to bite them on the bum. It couldn’t happen to more deserving people.
In the editorial in the Glasgow Herald in February 1984 we were warned: “Pessimists will say that the oil boom is over and we will not have another.” Those same pessimists are still with us, still saying the same thing 30 years later. Let’s make sure that we don’t waste the next 30 years.