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Wings Over Scotland

Britain’s ticking time bombs

Posted on April 19, 2012 by

This blog likes to think it can give credit where credit's due, so we have to take our hats off to the British establishment this week. Westminster has clearly been playing a far longer game than any of us had previously imagined when it comes to the threat of Scottish independence, and it's more than just successive Labour and Tory administrations suppressing the explosive McCrone Report way back in the 1970s.

Because it seems that Westminster has spent the last four decades (and possibly the last three centuries) cunningly sabotaging Scotland from within, with the intention of creating a Doomsday scenario whereby if the Scots should ever look like voting for independence, the UK Government can reveal the lethal Sword of Damocles hanging by a thread over the country's economic prospects and terrify them back into line.

We have, of course, already been hilariously told that should an independent Scotland reject nuclear weapons, it would have to pay the multi-billion-pound costs of the rUK building replacement facilities to house them, despite the stunningly plain fact that as the sole property of the rUK, the Trident fleet would be entirely the rUK's problem. (And despite the fact that Scotland never asked for or wanted it in the first place.) The taxpayers of independent Scotland would also be likely to be left on the hook for billions more to decommission nuclear power stations built by Westminster.

But the latest outbreak of gunboat diplomacy from the Unionists is pointed menacingly at Scotland's very heart. The media is suddenly full of tales of a staggering £30bn bill to clean up the North Sea oil rigs when they finally stop production 30, 50 or 100 years from now, and apparently that invoice will be coming straight to Edinburgh too.

It's an odd notion, and one immediately undermined by the fact that despite the screaming headlines, the incomprehensibly vast sum wouldn't actually be an expense as such at all – it would supposedly take the form of tax relief to be offset against income tax receipts from the sale of the oil. Nevertheless, the can of worms opened up by this theory is almost infinitely deep.

The questions are numerous and obvious. Since the UK has been enjoying the benefits of the oil infrastructure for the last four decades and collecting 100% of the tax receipts, how could it possibly expect to get away without sharing the burden of the clean-up for a mess it created? How can you offset unknown future costs against present tax receipts anyway? What would be to stop an independent Scottish Government from simply changing its tax-relief rules 20 years from now? And most bafflingly of all, how in the world is it going to cost £30bn to shut down a few tiny outcrops of steel in a vast ocean in the first place?

There are a lot of oil rigs and related structures in UK waters – almost 500, in fact – but it's not like they're radioactive. They'll only be abandoned when there's no more oil (or very close to none) left to be pumped, so the risk of pollution would be negligible. They're hundreds of miles from shore anyway, and well away from shipping lanes. Even if they were to somehow explode they're not going to present any discernible danger to anything, and would burn out soon enough. To be blunt, given all the horrific other stuff we're doing to the environment anyway, what does it matter if we just pour concrete down the pipes, walk away and let them slowly rust into the sea?

We're being somewhat glib and simplistic, of course. But we can't for the life of us see how it could conceivably cost £60m+ to shut down each and every oil-industry installation – some of which are extremely small – in the North Sea. And there's a very good reason for that: it can't.

The Great Oil Clean-Up is just the latest in a long line of Unionist scaremongering myths. If you were to believe every piece of half-baked gibberish that's cropped up in the last 12 months alone, an independent Scotland would be crushed under a debt mountain beyond imagining. According to the London parties and the UK media, we'd be lumbered with £30bn in oil clean-up, a £140bn share of the UK deficit, perhaps £20bn to pay the rUK to move Trident, another few billion to build some defence forces from scratch, a few billion more for the nuclear power stations, £187bn in bailout money for the banks (because naturally we'd be responsible for the entire support of both banks, as they did have the word "Scotland" in their names), and of course the small matter of a whopping £1.5 trillion in liabilities for them as well.

That little lot, if we throw in a bit extra for inflation and all the other stuff that's bound to come up, comes to a kick up the kilt off £2 trillion – or for perspective, around 1,500% of Scotland's entire annual GDP. We would lead the world league table of proportional debt by a dizzyingly vast margin – the current runaway leader, Zimbabwe, has managed to rack up just 230%. (Even if we discounted the liabilities part of RBS and HBOS, cutting the total to around £500bn, we'd still be on about 400%.)

There are, clearly, two things we need to draw from these figures. Firstly, that they're complete cobblers. But secondly, if we were to imagine just for the fun of it that they were true, Scotland would be by far and away the poorest country on the face of the planet. And if that's what being in the Union for the last 300 years has brought us, you have to ask just how much worse a job of things we could possibly do by ourselves.

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    11 to “Britain’s ticking time bombs”

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Of course, what people don't mention is that decommissioning will cost money because people will have to be employed to do it. It's not like throwing money into a black hole, it's providing work for people. My company is currently involved in the set up and running of oil projects, and we have it in our sights to be there for the decommisioning of them too. So whatever figure we talk of, it'll be getting ploughed straight back into the economy.
      Complaining about the costs of decommissioning oil platforms is like complaining about the cost of our public services. Totally expected by the Tories of course, but I do hope Labour aren't so keen to complain…

    2. Arbroath1320 says:

      Can I just say that I for one would be more than happy for Scotland to pay £30Billion to clean up the North Sea oil rigs at the end of their working life.
      Oh just one itsy bitsy little thing first. Before we go ahead with this £30 Billion clean up Westminster will of course be refunding to Scotland 100% of the oil revenue and taxes they "acquired" when we were part of the U.K. Oh and don't forget the interest on this money as well.
      Thank you very much!

    3. RevStu says:

      "Of course, what people don't mention is that decommissioning will cost money because people will have to be employed to do it. It's not like throwing money into a black hole, it's providing work for people."

      An excellent point. It was clearly too early in the morning for me to have thought of that one.

    4. Longshanker says:

       "But we can't for the life of us see how it could conceivably cost £60m+ to shut down each and every oil-industry installation"
      Some are small, some are gargantuan. Brent Spar decommissioning cost £61m and raised the ire and interest of the international community.
      Given that was in the 90s, I'd assume decommissioning costs have gone up since then.
      'Rigs to reefs' could be an alternative, but I doubt International Law would entertain it.

    5. Kenny Campbell says:

      Would the companies concerned with each individual rig/field not be responsible for this. Its not like the North sea is nationalised…

    6. Arbroath1320 says:

      You would think so Kenny, but then that doesn't make very good headlines for the A.I.B.,Anti Independence Brigade does it. The A.I.B. don't do the TRUTH very well but they do DO Scare stories very well indeed.

    7. Bugger (the Panda) says:

      Maybe I am a naieve Panda but, surely the exploiting company / licenecee will have the cost of decommissioning the rigs, as they erected them and we, the tax payers did not.

    8. ayemachrihanish says:

      Sorry to spoil the party, but my understanding is that the exploration license has explicit conditions that the seabed must be returned (post exploration and/or development) in the same condition in which it was received. Not only have the rigs and pipliese to be removed by the oil company's – 100% at their expense – but the clean up operation includes all debris and discarded fag packets as well. Of course if we did have to pay for this work it could always come from Scotland's s share of our Falkland Islands oil duty/ assets.    

    9. RevStu says:

      Yeah, but the apparent situation is that while the oil companies have to pay for it, they can offset that expenditure against tax receipts. I have no idea of the technicalities, but going by the reports that's currently how it is.

    10. ayemachrihanish says:

      Yes, and that's just like any other fixed or variable costs – there's no £30 billion bill going to arise at the end of the event for a Scottish exchequer . These cost are part of the past and ongoing production viability calculations. And therefore accounted for accordingly by the oil company's. 

    11. kevybaby says:

      as an oil boy I can confirm the above posters are right, the decomissioning costs are entirely the oil companies liability. nice try from the unionists though, why let facts spoil a perfectly good rumour………

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