What the growth in Scottish oil and gas exports means for Scottish independence

£8.2bn for 2011-2012.

Oil and gas industry exports in Scotland reached £8.2bn for 2011-2012, according to new figures released by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. It is the fourteenth consecutive year of the growth in the sector.  

Beyond the sales of hydrocarbons, offshore equipment, construction and drilling services now account for almost half of sales around the world. Speaking at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

“The Scottish Government recognises the substantial contribution that the oil and gas industry makes to our economy. We are working with the industry to continue to strengthen Scotland's position as a global leader in the sector and these figures mark further growth in this important part of our economy. There are huge opportunities open to us internationally, and we are determined to make the most of them.”

The biggest trading partner for Scotland remained North America, with sales reaching $4bn last year, an increase of 2.8 per cent. Sales to Africa came in second, growing 5.9 per cent for the year. Other growth markets are also being targeted by the industry, but according to Danny Cusick, President, Americas, Scottish Development International, North America will remain the country’s number one priority for the foreseeable future:

"While other markets such as Brazil, Africa, the Middle East and Australia are increasingly becoming international priorities for Scotland, North America remains by far our top and most important region for exports. Continued investment by oil and gas companies from the U.S. and Canada is crucial to Scotland's long-term economic growth."

Supporting nearly 200,000 jobs in Scotland, plus an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil still to be produced from the North Sea, the national government’s support for this industry will add further fuel to the Scottish independence debate. The announcement comes after first minister Alex Salmond last month tried to bolster the case for independence by predicting a mini oil boom worth £57bn in tax revenues by 2017-18, but was quickly accused of cherry picking optimistic forecasts by his opponents.

However, with this latest announcement, plus the UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change predicting oil prices of more than $150 a barrel by 2020, Salmond’s detractors could yet be proved wrong.

Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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