Sunday, January 13, 2008

Scotland has to fight for a fair deal on new oil negotiations

by former SNP leader Gordon Wilson (writing in the Sunday Herald)

ON THE face of it, this was very good news. After losing the benefits of the oil in the North Sea, Scotland could have a second chance in the eastern Atlantic. Until recently, this has been legally impossible; only the Continental Shelf could be developed. Now the UN has opened up new frontiers in deeper waters - provided the adjoining nations agree.

If Scotland were independent, we would be negotiating the division of 162,935 square miles of sea bed forming the Rockall/Hatton Basin, deemed to be oil-rich. But Scotland is not a negotiating party along with Ireland, Iceland and Denmark (acting for the Faroe Islands) who all have claims. Our seat is occupied by the British government in London. So what's the problem? Surely it will look after Scotland's interests?

But will it? The evidence is that the British government has a habit of ignoring the interests of the Scottish people if they clash with imperial priorities. In the early 1970s, the Heath government sacrificed the needs of the Scottish fishing industry to get into the Common Market. The Common Fisheries Policy surrendered Scottish waters to European competitors. Ever since, Britain has treated fishing as an unimportant British issue.

Evidence from government records, recently issued after 30 years, shows that Westminster governments conspired to deceive the Scottish people as to the value of Scotland's oil, in order to retain the oil revenues for the British Treasury.

Be careful Scotland! We can't trust the Foreign Office to look after our interests. The four negotiating countries are not bound by law on the setting of boundaries, and can mutually agree deals - deals which may not benefit Scotland. As with fishing, Scotland can be ignored. And didn't Downing Street recently do a deal on prisoner transfers to Libya without consulting the Scottish government? Yet we're asked to trust them.

We'd be mad to do so. I have written to Alex Salmond about these negotiations, advising that the Scottish government become involved. We must know what's been agreed in our name and hire lawyers and oil experts so we can ensure any deal is fair. If he is blocked by London, it should be made clear that independent Scotland will not accept a damaging treaty.

Mr Salmond should alert the Danish, Irish and Icelandic governments. I am sure the Faroese, represented by Denmark, will be consulted and this will be a powerful argument for the Scottish government to use.

Gordon Wilson is former director of the It's Scotland's Oil campaign

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