Having met more people yesterday than any other single day so far, the liveliest chats were around the SNP’s ambitious policy to convert to green energy by 2020. But my concern is less whether that can be done and more that Scotland reaps the full economic benefit of being a world leader.
While Scotland in general and Aberdeen in particular made billions from North Sea oil, the UK Treasury and foreign companies made more. And most Scottish companies—whether Ramco, Cairn or OHM—have been swallowed up by bigger fish. People did make money but very little of it wound up in Scotland, catalysing further developmemnt. And it wasn’t just the US-based global giants like Transocean or MacDermott who made out like bandits. National control allowed our old friends the Norwegians to build solid companies on the steady flow of oil.
The Scottish merchant fleet above the size of ferry is tiny; The Norwegian is over 2,000 and growing by almost 200 a year, one third of which are laid down in home yards. Many of these are specialist ships; highly profitable. Farstad specialises in positioning ships that move and anchor the massive rigs at sea. And, like Holland’s reputation for tugs, they have a world class reputation that brings them business in Angola, Brasil and Indonesia.
As if to highlight how poor we are in using our skills and exploiting local opportunity, the best pipeline-laying ships in the world are run by the Swiss(?!). Allseas’ polyglot crews can hit a metre-square target with a 12″ pipe in 200m of water in the dark. Their skills save the gas companies billions and the thirty welders on board command hourly rates like basketball scores.
If Scotland is to learn how to exploit our riches, we need to learn more than just squirreling away a $200bn oil fund like Norwegian neighbours. We must not be fooled again with the 21st © equivalent of beads and blankets and mostly semi-skilled jobs, as we were in the 70’s.