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

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Trident is dangerous – and not for the reasons you think

Fixating on Trident is like replacing the guest bathroom while your own toilet flush doesn't work. 

Backing Trident is supposed to make a politician look hard, realistic and committed to Britain’s long history of military defence.That’s why the Tories delighted in holding a debate on renewing the nuclear weapons system in June 2016.

But it was the Tory Prime Minister who floundered this weekend, after it emerged that three weeks before that debate, an unarmed Trident missile misfired - and veered off towards the United States instead of Africa. Downing Street confirmed May knew about the error before the parliamentary debate. 

Trident critics have mobilised. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the revelation “serious”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of nuclear weapons, said the error was “pretty catastrophic”. 

The idea of a rogue nuclear missile heading for the White House may have fuelled the disarmament movement. But even if you enjoy the game of nuclear poker, fixating on Trident is dangerous. Because while MPs rehearse the same old Cold War arguments, the rest of the world has moved on. 

Every hour debating Trident is an hour not spent debating cyber warfare. As Peter Pomerantsev prophetically wrote in April 2015, Russian military theory has in recent years assumed that it would not be possible to match the West militarily, but wars can be won in the “psychosphere”, through misinformation.

Since the Russian cyber attacks during the US election, few can doubt this strategy is paying off - and that our defence systems have a long way to catch up. As shadow Defence secretary, Emily Thornberry described this as “the crucial test” of the 21st century. The government has pledged £1.9bn in cyber security defences over the next five years, but will that be enough? Nerds in a back room are not as thrilling as nuclear submarines, but how they are deployed matters too.

Secondly, there is the cost. Even if you back the idea of a nuclear deterrent, renewing Trident is a bit like replacing the guest bathroom when the regular loo is hardly flushing. A 2015 Centreforum paper described it as “gold-plated” - if your idea of gold-plated is the ability to blow up “a minimum of eight cities”. There is a gory but necessary debate to be had about alternatives which could free up more money to be spent on conventional forces. 

Finally, a nuclear deterrent is only credible if you intend to use it. For this reason, the British government needs to focus on protecting the infrastructure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, now under threat from a US President who declared it “obsolete”. Eastern Europe has been nervous about the bear on its borders for some time - the number of Poles joining the country’s 120 paramilitary organisations has tripled in two years.  

Simply attacking Trident on safety grounds will only get you so far - after all, the argument behind renewing Trident is that the status quo will not do. Furthermore, for all the furore over a misfired Trident missile, it’s hard to imagine that should the hour come, the biggest worry for the crew of a nuclear submarine will be the small chance of a missile going in the wrong direction. That would be missing the rather higher chance of global nuclear apocalypse.

Anti-Trident MPs will make the most of May's current embarrassment. But if they can build bridges with the more hawkish members of the opposition, and criticise the government's defence policy on its own terms, they will find plenty more ammunition. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.