SNP: Oil Boom or Climate Emergency?

As the SNP build their new case for independence, proposals concerning the Scottish economy continue to revolve around the nation’s potential command over North Sea oil reserves. A recent report from the Scotsman states that according to predictions from the Oil and Gas Authority, around 11.9 billion barrels of oil will be extracted from the North Sea by 2050, ‘a hike of almost 50 per cent from the forecast four years ago, of eight billion barrels.’ The SNP have welcomed this as “great news,” verifying the “major economic potential” for Scottish oil over the next few decades, and boosting the case for a new North Sea oil fund.

By Christopher MacDougall, Glasgow Marxists

The hypothetical fund was raised as part of a recent growth commission report, in which it was labeled a “Fund for Future Generations,” allowing for the people of Scotland to “reap the long-term benefits” of oil revenues under independence. According to the report, money accumulated from the fossil fuel will be used to fund the public sector, develop infrastructure, and support research and development into new renewable energy schemes.

But the report arises at a time of crisis for the SNP, who have already been accused by the Scottish campaign group Friends of the Earth of “riding both horses” when it comes to their energy and climate policies. Indeed, the SNP’s recent pledges to achieve ‘net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest,’ and for Scotland to become carbon neutral by 2040, might come as a surprise to those who remember how much of Alex Salmond’s 2014 independence case was driven by the promise of a “second oil boom” in Scotland.

Since 2014, the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership have made greater efforts to address the impending dilemma, the First Minister recently acknowledging the current climate emergency and advocating for a more immediate ‘fiscal regime’ of the oil industry. However, the party website maintains that they will ensure ‘good stewardship of our oil and gas reserves for the nation’: with efforts to expand the industry using taxpayer money and private investment; along with a pledge to reduce costs for company executives – without, apparently, compromising the safety of workers.

Autonomy over Scottish Oil has become something of an ideal for the SNP throughout their existence, reaching its zenith in former Depute Leader Jim Sillars bold declaration that under an independent Scotland ‘we will be the masters of the oil fields, not BP or any other of the majors.’ The phrase “It’s Scotland’s Oil,” adopted by the party in the 1970s, has also periodically re-emerged in the fight against Westminster, with the promise that, by breaking-away from Britain, they will get rid of the big internationals and bring a new state of economic prosperity to Scotland.

Even up to now, the party maintains a somewhat hypocritical approach to fossil fuels, with the prolonged movement towards renewable energy constantly hindered by the profits still to be made from oil. Indeed, as long as the commodity remains a sellable resource, it is unlikely that extractions will cease; and whether this is done by Scottish companies or not, the environmental damage will remain the same.

The drastic effects of climate change on the Earth’s population are widely known. As greenhouse gasses continue to raise the global temperature, causing rising sea-levels and extreme weather conditions, the lives of people, particularly across the poorer nations of the planet, will become extremely dangerous: inevitably leading to mass migration and disputes over water, food, and other resources. Crop failures, natural disasters, and the loss of wildlife, will all factor in to a general worsening of the human condition: but one which the bourgeois class will be the last to feel.

Scotland is not immune to these problems. As Committee on Climate Change executive Chris Stark has pointed out, rising sea levels, which are set to increase by 197 feet globally over the coming decades, will undoubtedly cause severe disruption for the inhabitants of coastal communities here too. Equally as worrying: a recent report from the Guardian shows that Scotland could be facing a ‘climate apocalypse,’ with increased pollution and disease already beginning to damage the water, wildlife, and famous natural landscape of our countryside.

The SNP leaders’ riding of 2 horses over the environment, perfectly mirrors their class contradictions. You can’t be capitalist and pro-environment. Recent climate protests in Scotland have already gained the attention of the First Minister and the school strikes contain a lot of potential, particularly if they link up with the labour movement. The independence movement also has the potential to act as a vehicle for true environmental policies. But as soon as we ask what these policies would have to be, the inherently socialist character of the solution to climate change is clear, for they would be such policies as free and high quality public transport, and the nationalisation of the energy and utilities, and other major businesses, under democratic control of workplaces communities and the climate scientists. Given that it is known that over 70% of pollution is caused by only 100 giant companies, and given the need for an overall and ambitious, coordinated plan to urgently tackle endemic pollution, the need for this socialist approach is clear. The question for the Yes movement then is – socialism or barbarism?

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