Taking the Mickey…and the Oil


  By Derek Bateman
I think I’ve got it now. The people who took £400 billion of our oil and didn’t save a penny over 40 years should be allowed to get away with it. And to make the case for carrying on, they show their commitment by coming to Scotland for the second time in a century and their PR man wears a helmet in a chopper – he’s a real rig roustabout, isn’t he?
I marvelled at the chutzpah of a political machine that trots out tired cliché after cliché in the Yes Minister fantasy that people are simple mugs who can be lured like dumb animals with sugar lumps before the snare goes round their neck.

Posh Dave on a rig, cheques flying out of the book, new projects launched and “almost the entire Cabinet” (copyright BBC News) actually leaving London with a whole army of BBC big shots and travelling like other people do to a city at the other end of the country where other people really live and work – no really – and nearly speak the same language and pretending to be just like ordinary folk with reasonable concerns and honest intentions to do their best and not resenting being roused from SW1 one bit and so happy to be here in Aberdeen, God it’s cold

This took me back to the nineties when Major was hanging on to power by Edwina’s knickers and twerps like Lord Glenarthur or Ian Lang (remember the dead) were actually paid to be government ministers. They would turn up at some muddy brownfield site in Lanarkshire wearing a Gieve’s pinstripe and City shoes to announce work on a factory given free to a Korean television tube/microwave maker.

They would put on a yellow hard hat, climb aboard a digger and give a thumbs up for the cameras. God, it was boring for the reporters; embarrassing, if it were possible, for the policy-free, photo-op politicos and humiliating for the tax payer who subsidised the whole charade and was usually left with an empty plant and a hollowed-out wallet when the grants ran out and Doosan-Dingbat Industries moved to Ireland.

And here we are again, trapped in the same noblesse oblige Downton Abbey pretence that the British ruling elite gives a stuff about North Sea workers or the lives of the Scots beyond the credit line that extends all the way south. If Salmond said: ‘Tell you what, here’s a cheque for the next 10 years of oil revenues, now fuck off,’ Dave would grab it, whip off his hard hat, jump on the shuttle and be back in Notting Hill before Sam had read the Boden catalogue. (I know he lives in Number 10 at our expense but happily he rents out the Notting Hill place for £6000 a month).

If you chopper out to an oil rig for publicity purposes it might be appropriate to tell the people who do that every day why there shouldn’t be an inquiry – a public one – into 20 lives lost in four years from helicopter crashes. Or even give a government response to Total allowing the G4 well on their Elgin field to blow out.  That “event” was by all reports a very near miss – a spark away from disaster – according to the RMT union.

‘Over 8,000 cubic meters an hour of explosive gas escaped during and after the four hours it took to evacuate the installations by helicopter, and during this time and for a further five days that spark was actually very, very close in the form of a naked flame left burning in the flare stack.  Only the wind direction (luck) stopped Elgin going up – and with what consequences for oil workers’ lives if it had?… workers in the industry still don’t know why the well was allowed to blow out and why 238 lives were put in jeopardy.’

Still, that wasn’t the point of The Coalition offensive, was it? Saving lives is one thing but saving the economy is another.  It now seems to be official – that Scots are too thick to run their own oil industry. It needs the “broad shoulders and deep pockets” of the UK to do that. Or should that be “brass neck and bottomless pockets” of the UK…

If you look at Norway’s oil fund, the annual interest payments and dividends are around £14 billion profit on investment already made, which would still be there if the wells ran dry tomorrow. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that Britain’s revenues from North Sea oil this year will be less than half that.

How outrageous is that? Norway, smaller than Scotland, gets twice as much income from its investments alone with the capital untouched than the UK gets from oil production taxes. Meanwhile the Mighty UK has nothing, nada, not a bean, not a brass farthing, in savings from the years of the oil bonanza – all shoveled into the current account and spent while Britain builds up unpayable mountains of sovereign debt, borrows relentlessly and impoverishes its people – except the bankers. 

Norway has a prudent rule (who was it that used that phrase?) that no more than 4 per cent of the fund’s capital is spent in any one year. That’s around £20 billion, which is more than the UK raises in capital gains tax, stamp duty and inheritance tax combined. This is a scandal on a monumental scale perpetrated by the people who lied to us about its worth.

If Scots vote No out of fear, we must be very frightened people indeed because the callous way this natural bounty has been blown is a warning to everyone in Britain. I read the anti-Scottish hate as people in England sneer at our ambitions but surely they are the dimwits, being distracted by our campaign when their venom should be aimed at the people they constantly elect into power, people whose policies mean they are earning half of the GDP in Norway.

I know Alex Salmond would like an apology for the squandering of our natural asset but I’d be satisfied with a Thank You, Scotland for bankrolling Britain for the last 30 years. I can’t believe we are going to endorse them ripping us off a second time.

Courtesy of Derek Bateman