Post-war to post-industrial Scotland

As a contribution to a radical plan for an independent, decarbonised Scotland, Brian Parkin analyses the damaging ways in which successive British governments have restructured the Scottish economy since the mid-twentieth century.

Ravenscraig steelworks, shortly before closure in 1992. Photo: Elliott Simpson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In late 2014, the recently late and much loved Neil Davidson gathered together a group of radical academics and activists in order to develop a Left Manifesto for Scotland. Below is (a slightly updated) chapter that was submitted by Brian Parkin. The following is one of three sketches that would examine the political economy of Scotland and its journey from post-war, state-sponsored industrial restructuring through to today’s experience of deindustrialisation and structural decline. Further sketches were to analyse the effects of privatisation, and how the transformation to a service economy might offer strategic choke points (in logistics, for example) that could become focuses for labour resistance.

The aim of the overall project was to offer a road map for Scottish socialists attempting to develop radical strategies and class-based radical independence policies amid conditions of deepening global recessions, climate crises, and for Scotland, an end-of-oil economic era.

It is the intention of rs21 Scotland to share this paper with the radical environmental network Scot.E3.  

Part 1: Dreams of development

The post-war settlement that enshrined full employment as a core economic aim saw the British state play a central role in redirecting labour into new post-hostility recovery employment. At the same time efforts were made to revitalise industries through new technological investment and in many cases reorganisation and modernisation through direct state ownership.[1]

Inevitably, this rationalisation, with newer technologies reducing the ‘living’ labour component in many processes, also meant job losses. In regions in which heavy industries predominated the initial impact, in terms of unemployment and outward migration, was to deepen the sense of decline. Hence the persistence in many regions – the West of Scotland, Tyneside, Teesside, Humberside, South Yorkshire and South Wales – of the feeling that much of post-war recovery passed them by.

The Labour technocracy

The return of a Labour government in 1964 saw an attempt to continue state enterprise in creating a modern and competitive UK economy. Highly specialised industry development boards were set up – both to modernise existing industries through targeted capital investment grants, but also to encourage more product diversity with an ever-increasing high technology content.

Regions were also picked out for extensive development and regeneration. Whole industries – coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding, aerospace and textiles – were all serviced by development boards or consultative committees whose task it was to marshal the strategic resources of manpower and training necessary to ensure competitive recovery. So-called ‘Advance Factories’ and industrial parks were set up on derelict mining or iron-works sites for incoming investment to take advantage of generous grants in exchange for providing high-skill employment – and with it, hoped for economic regeneration.[2] Such policies, initiated by the Attlee government, were to be resumed with a greater vigour by the Wilson government of 1964-70.

But whatever the success of such schemes, they could do little to offset the principal ills of UK capitalism – low productivity and sclerotic profit rates. With Labour’s fall from grace in 1970, to an extent due to unpopular incomes (wage) controls and trade union reforms, the way seemed open for a ‘tougher’ Tory government.

The beginning of the end of the post-war settlement

The Tory government of 1970-74 entered office determined to replace the policies of the former Labour government with early trace elements of free market ideology. Incomes policies would persist, as would trade union legislation. Although state aid to industry continued, a clear disdain for traditional manufacturing gave rise to terms such as ‘lame duck’ or ‘outdated’ to describe those sectors suspected of harbouring tribal anti-competition cultures. The difficulties in replacing an interventionist strategy with a reckless more laissez faire approach were made clear in the case of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) in what was to become a legendary confrontation between popular defiance and a government determined to let the market decide the future of some 28,000 shipyard workers and their communities[3].

UCS had been formed in 1968 under the direction of the then Industry secretary, Tony Benn. It comprised five shipyards and was the product of an extensive rationalisation and reorganisation programme overseen by the Shipbuilding Industry Board which provided start-up capital grant plus a £5.5 million interest free loan over three years. At the time of its conception it had an order book of £87 million. The government had a 48.4% shareholding.

At the end of 1970, UCS had experienced some delays in securing orders and in early 1971 the board applied to the government for a £5 million short-term loan. This was declined and the subsequent ‘work-in’ and the massive response, in terms of working-class solidarity followed by the government climb-down, is now the stuff of legend. The embarrassment of the Heath government was further deepened by an emergency bailout and nationalisation of Rolls Royce which had foundered on the costs of developing a new generation of turbofan commercial jet engines.

Until these two major industrial setbacks there can be no doubt that Tory leadership thinking had begun to depart from the post-war consensus of economic recovery based on full employment. Certainly, before his fall from grace over the ‘rivers of blood’ anti-immigration speech, Enoch Powell (along with Nicholas Ridley and Sir Keith Joseph as members of the Institute of Economic Affairs- IEA) had been exerting increasing influence.[4]

The climb-downs at UCS and Rolls Royce were followed within months with the first ever national miners’ strike in the winter of 1972. The strike, ostensibly over statutory wage controls, contained within it a highly charged set of political grievances. In 1939 there had been 37,000 miners in Scotland: by 1972 this had dwindled to 21,000. There had been a long-held suspicion by the Scottish NUM that since 1946 and the nationalisation of coal, Scotland had been disfavoured in terms of both coalfield development and capital investment. Another subsequent miners’ strike in 1974, in seeing off the Heath Tory government, also forced the hand of the incoming Labour government to underpin the security of all of the coalfields with The Plan for Coal[5]. Although this agreement did give some initial security, it wasn’t long before the full implementation of a productivity agreement: the National Power Loading Agreement opened up wide disparities in colliery and coalfield performance.

Whilst it is clear that a number of almost classic set-piece industrial confrontations thwarted the testing of Tory ideology it was only to take another two years for a Labour chancellor to seek IMF support in exchange for a virtual surrender to market ideology. In that year of 1976 a Labour government now demanded that the maintenance of a welfare state had to be conditional on the working class accepting both wage restraint and public spending cuts. And as if to demonstrate the awesome power of unfettered markets, unemployment was allowed to exceed one million for the first time in forty years.

Other industries

Prior to the decisive break from post-war economic strategies that occurred in the mid-1970s, there had been a wide range of industry specific investment programmes aimed at achieving both economic growth whilst maintaining employment at optimum levels. Such programmes took on added significance when they offered the prospect of regional regeneration. As many of the regions then experiencing decline had economies based on either extractive or manufacturing industries, the conventional economic wisdom was to ‘reindustrialise’ them, either by modernising existing processes or by inward investment in the form of newer industries with a higher technology content.

In the case of Scotland, which even in the best of times during the 20th century had experienced net outward migration and persistent poverty, the task was especially difficult. Much of the industrial base was both dated and dedicated to declining markets. The industrial capacity that did offer the prospect of recovery was hopelessly under-invested. Despite genuine attempts to revive certain sectors while using inward investment to maintain employment at acceptable levels, the downgrading of much of Scotland’s industrial capacity has had a shattering effect. Scotland has a small population and a large surface area and can still derive considerable wealth and employment from agriculture, forestry, fisheries and downstream processing, but it was the range of industry, from coal to cruise liners, that had given the country much of its sense of identity.

In an attempt to maintain a primary industrial base, the metal producing sector was marked out for modernisation. Firstly, the Collville steelworks at Motherwell, which had been site surveyed in 1954 for expansion, was renamed Ravenscraig and extensively developed by new state owned British Steel in 1967 as a combined iron, steel and hot strip steel mill which at the time was the longest in Europe. The site employed over 13,000 workers and was known as ‘Steelopolis’. The plant closed in 1992.[6]

Rolling mills
Davy rolling mills in operation at Ravenscraig in 1985. Photo: Dave Wilson (CC BY SA 2.0)

In addition, the first Scottish aluminium smelter at Fort William, (opened in 1929) benefited from power from the dedicated Lochaber hydro-power station. Still, operational it employs 240. Although extensively modernised by British Aluminium in the 1970s it is now operated by RTX/Alcan. But a further bid to expand a strategic aluminium industry foundered when the Invergordon smelter at Cromarty (opened by the state-owned British Aluminium Company in 1968 and originally employing 900)  closed in Dec 1981.[7]

In order to give Scotland a place in mass production industry, two sites were chosen for new motor vehicle manufacture and assembly:

  • Rootes (later Chrysler) was chosen for state investment in its plant at Linwood, Renfrewshire in 1961. It was further enlarged in 1967. The workforce was incrementally increased from the original 450 Rootes workers by a further 3000 in main assembly plus 2000 in the Pressed Steel plant. The site closed in 1981 with the loss of 5500 jobs.
  • BMC (trucks and tractors) at Bathgate first opened 1961. Largely due to the chaotic phases of mergers and rationalisations in what was to become British Leyland the plant closed in 1986 with a loss of 2300 jobs.

In addition to the above, further grant-aided programmes aimed at modernising other established industries – most notably chemicals and textiles – did much to retain employment in traditional industrial areas. Notable projects aimed at modernising the jute and linen mills, not only in terms of new plant machinery and infrastructure, but also in terms of the diversification in yarns towards synthetics increasingly available from a burgeoning petrochemical industry. In areas such as Dundee, this did much to protect employment traditionally undertaken by women.[8]

From command and control to markets

All of the above industrial strategies were predicated on a mixed economy model in which the state had a central and almost entrepreneurial role as technical driver, banker of last resort and planning enabler. To a considerable extent, a degree of market protection would always be necessary for such projects to work. They also required the co-option of the unions and local authorities to ensure the necessary workforce goodwill and motivation.

The subsequent Thatcher governments from 1979 onwards saw the withdrawal of the state from most aspects of industrial and regional strategies. Industrial technical innovation and implementation were to become matters for private enterprise and much state-funded research and development activity was terminated. The result was to effectively see off most of the industrial regional programmes resulting in plant closures as part of a de-industrialisation process, which hit regions like Scotland almost overnight.

But as Scottish industry generally was allowed to face increasingly tough market tests, another sector and one of a wider strategic importance to the UK economy as a whole was to see ever-increasing levels of state investment. That strategic sector, which all governments felt was best not left to the market, was energy. In particular Middle East oil shocks had shown how tenuous the whole issue of security of energy supply had become. In the 1960s, offshore surveys revealed the continuous extent of North Sea gas reserves westwards from recent onshore Dutch gas finds, and further exploration in the UK sectors consequently revealed large gas deposits in 1965, followed by extensive oil finds in 1971. But until the oil shock of 1973 in particular, coming as it did between two national miners strikes, the North Sea and its hydrocarbon resources had not commanded much in the way of strategic attention.

It is an irony that the deciding moments that determined over 40 years of expansive state intervention, and economic management of the biggest industrial capital investment programme, came at a time when the Keynesian orthodoxy of demand management was being abandoned, greatly to the detriment of most of the efforts of post-war Scottish reindustrialisation.

Part 2: North Sea Oil and Gas: Straddling the ideological eras 

Until the early 1960s, the known extent of the UK’s oil reserves were, in addition to shale oil deposits in Scotland, confined to a handful of small sites in England. Although the extension of onshore coal measures with possible petroleum potential well into the North Sea was understood, there was neither the available technology nor economic incentive to explore these ‘prospects’. But in the late 1950s, onshore gas-field exploration began in the Dutch province of Groningen. In 1959, what turned out to be a giant field was struck there in a sugar beet field.[9]

As the find was located in the strata that formed much of the UK’s coal measures, albeit much deeper, it was only a matter of informed guesswork to assume that such gas deposits could be found west of Groningen in the British sectors of the southern North Sea. It was also clear from deeper boreholes that the strata at deeper levels could probably contain oil.

The strategic importance of such a discovery was at first almost entirely regarded as being a potential source of relief for the UK’s ongoing balance of payments problem. But although slow at first, the British government eventually passed a UK Continental Shelf Act in 1964 securing automatic mineral rights to 200 metres of depth.[10] Then a year later Norway and the UK struck an agreement which allowed exploration to commence. A feature of this agreement is that both the UK and Norway initially agreed to permit exploration and production on the basis of licences allocated by administrative assessment rather than by the more customary practice of auction. The decision arose from a distrust of the oil companies’ established habits of acting as undisclosed cartels and thereby ensuring licence auctions rarely exceeding the reserve price.[11]

Another advantage of this licensing regime was that it allowed the UK government to favour British companies as well as giving state control over the rate of exploration and production in line with strategic imperatives. To this end a Department of Power was, among other things, charged with an offshore licensing regime with an initial view to ensuring a prudent rate of extraction. But a rapid turn of events was to significantly upgrade the importance of the North Sea and at the same time shift the resource management criteria from one of protracted conservation to one of maximising output.[12]

As Juan Carlos Boué has described, UK governments realised an offshore industry in deep and inhospitable waters would require substantial inducements if the oil ‘majors’ were to be the principal players. Hence a high-subsidy, virtually zero-taxation environment that by any measure ruled out any market test for what was at best speculative, if not unknown, geo-physical evidence. This meant from the start that the UK government had to be the risk-taker of both first and last resort.

Such a ‘statist’ approach presented no problem for Labour or Conservative governments alike who shared the imperatives of breaking the powers of a largely Arab OPEC cartel with the added bonus of petroleum security and a more comfortable trade balance. And in this approach the UK pioneered a governance model involving state subsidies and minimal tax penalties. Such a model made little sense within a UK economic regime slipping further towards market criteria being the ultimate test – and even less sense when applied to established oil-producing countries – yet made all too much sense to the largely Western giant oil corporations.

Yet, this fiscal gamble was to pay off when a sequence of strikes proved the possibility of a viable UK offshore industry.

The first event occurred in December 1969 when an exploration well 2/4-1AX drilling 100 miles east of Dundee struck oil.[13] The find proved to be the giant Ekofisk field, which actually lay beyond UK jurisdiction in the Norwegian sector. But weeks later similar oil finds in the UK sector began with the Montrose field confirming commercial promise to the east of Peterhead.

Subsequent events came with a rapid sequence of Middle East conflicts that massively increased the price of imported oil, followed by a second national miners’ strike: both unconnected but seminal moments which concentrated the minds of governments of both persuasions on the strategic matter of energy security. For the incoming Labour government of 1974 there were two major energy initiatives. The first was a major stepping-up of the nuclear power programme as a hedge against the miners and the second was a major state intervention in North Sea exploration, extraction and investment. [14]

The first (under Tony Benn) resulted in the hasty decision to proceed with a nuclear programme based on the ill-fated UK-designed Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) of which two were built and continue to under-perform in Scotland – Hunterston B and Torness. The second was to create two state bodies to oversee the respective North Sea hydrocarbon operations. A British National Oil Corporation (BNOC)[15] in 1975 became not only the oil sector’s regulator and licensor – it also became a commercial partner with the option to ‘buy back’ up to 51% of a field’s production in order to then sell it back to the company for selling on to the refineries.[16] BNOC also reserved the right to take out a stake in certain fields which essentially saw the state both stimulating development as well as underwriting risk. British Gas (BG) was set up to carry out similar duties with regards to the gas fields.  Initially, in the case of the Irish Sea and Morecambe Bay, it actually operated rigs. BG also took on responsibility for the much bigger North Sea operations as well as the downstream duties of onshore gas distribution and marketing.

Although many North Sea oil and gas discoveries were relatively close inshore, in the fairly shallow English waters of the Southern and Central North Sea, the trend as a consequence of progressive exhaustion has seen production move northwards into more remote and deeper-water gas fields. Scotland with its share of the Central North Sea and the whole of the Northern North Sea and West of Shetland sector now accounts for over 95.1 % of UK oil and 48.0 % of UK gas production.[17]

Crisis of Markets and Investment

It is evident from the sheer scale of the North Sea oil and gas industry, and the most hostile of environments that it continues to work and develop in, that a project of such technical complexity and vastness could never have got going by private enterprise alone. Without the UK government acting as the risk-taker of last resort, it is hard to imagine usually risk-averse capital venturing  beyond ‘the Forties above the latitude of 58 degrees North where the weather is apt to get rough with winds of 125 miles per hour and waves over 100 feet’.[18]

Yet now as more well injection applications are made, in order to enhance well output from the older wells, it is becoming clear that the current rate of extraction is just unsustainable. As established fields deplete alternative reserves must be found further North. But with revenue from falling production and falling world oil prices combine it is likely that as exploration falters then the offshore industry as a whole faces the threat of loss of its critical mass. Between 2011 and 2014 North Sea exploration costs per barrel rose from £4.00 to £22.00 and between 2010 and 2014 development costs rose from £8bn to £15bn.[19] And that was before the oil price crash.

Part 3: Update

That the North Sea industry continued to attract government support was evident from the decision by a Tory chancellor to provide further tax breaks and incentives in the wake of the global oil price crash. But government aid would not last indefinitely if the world market continued to be awash with over-produced cheap oil. But by 2017 it had become clear that the North Sea had been since its inception a net cost/zero revenue operation for HM Treasury.

North Sea operators: subsidies and tax yields 2015-17[20]

Operator Subsidy (£ million) Tax yield (£)
BP 580 0.00
Canadian Natural 480 0.00
Exxon/Mobil 400 0.00
Hess 220 0.00
Sinopec 200 0.00
Shell 80 0.00
Chevron 50 0.00
Bhpbillton 40 0.00
Centrica 30 0.00


(See: ‘Overdue! A Just Transition for Scotland’s offshore Oil and Gas workers: part one. Brian Parkin, Scot. E3, 22 April 2020. Also: Juan Carlos Boué: The UK North Sea Global Experiment in neoliberal resource management. Scot E.3 Edinburgh Feb 2020).

Nationalisation, resource conservation and democratic control

As the title of this paper suggests, the North Sea oil and gas industry has, unlike probably any other, been able to straddle a transitional phase between two opposing economic ideologies. It has done so because whatever the prevailing ideological wind, governments have always been preoccupied with matters of energy security. But now, as a residual neoliberal dogma falters amid Covid-19 and post-Brexit uncertainties, it would only be a matter of time before any remaining interventionist notion evaporated.

By 2018 BP, in the light of Forties field exhaustion, sold off its remaining offshore and onshore assets to the Grangemouth owner and operator, Ineos. Shell, facing the depletion of the once mighty Brent field, indicated that it would no longer be investing in any major North Sea activities. This was then followed in early 2020 by Exxon/Mobil declaring a sell-off of all of its North Sea licences and infrastructure assets in a bid to raise $2 billion in liquidity for oil and gas investments elsewhere.

According to current estimates reserves lasting ‘well beyond 2055’ and ‘with a total wholesale value of at least £1.5 trillion’ could be realised on the basis ‘of a 28% rise in demand by 2035’.[21] But while such forecasts are often excessively optimistic, it is nevertheless possible that extensive and economically profitable reserves could be exploited well into the future. UK and Scottish governments remain committed to extraction of all economically viable oil and gas.  However, the assumption of a  28% rise in demand deserves comment.  At a time when the evidence of accelerating climate change is undeniable, it is irresponsible to make policy based on rising rates of fossil fuel usage.

Contrary to any previous forecasts the demand for hydrocarbons is set on a downward trajectory as the intersections of global recession, Covid-19-led demand collapse, and a growing climate change consensus indicate an irreversible decline in fossil fuel usage. For a high-production-cost and medium-volume North Sea industry, a permanently depressed world oil price can only accelerate its rate of decline.

Oil rigs
Unwanted North Sea oil rigs queue up in the Cromarty Firth

The oil price collapse of March 2020 onwards could lead to a sequential collapse in UK North Sea operations, which on a central forecast, could mean the loss of some 200,000 jobs (offshore and onshore supply chain) within the next 18 months: some 9% of the Scottish workforce.[22]

The pace of change in both the global and Scottish economies since the inception of the Manifesto project in 2014, have been both rapid and extensive. But in order to discern a trend and identify the strength (or otherwise) of the economy, we have to bear in mind the trajectory of the UK economy as a whole over the past 40 years.

Economic management to markets: a (very) thumbnail sketch

By the late 1970s, Scotland, like other ‘industrial regions’ of the UK, was about to be assaulted by the first phase of market ‘shock therapy’. In the philistine mind of the primitive neoliberals, in an economy based on heavy engineering, ship building, metals manufacture, textiles and energy extraction, only a dose of economic Darwinism would determine who could – or could not – survive the market test. And although such an economic portrait could describe some other UK regions, it all applied to Scotland. The basic core of the economic ‘philosophy’ was that by opening up the UK economy as a whole to the reality of ‘market forces’, those sclerotic and sullen elements of the workforce would be ‘shaken out’. Uncompetitive industries would be forced to prove themselves within an environment where management would be forced to re-learn the arts of management.

However, such a strategy failed to take into account the degree to which many industries were marked by years of under-investment. Hence this was an exercise predicated on assumption that the UK economy was structurally strong enough to withstand a little shock and awe.

For some of the UK regions, this proved to be catastrophic. And for a Scotland now hanging on a rapidly declining offshore oil and gas industry – as well as remnant sectors about to face the full-on forces of a post-Covid-19 global recession – the future could be bleak.

Fast-forward and we can survey the results, although at times it was no pushover for the ruling class. The miners fought on for a whole year, and the largely female workforce at Timex, Dundee, stuck it out for eight months. But when defeat ensued, the devastation of working-class communities followed.

And although Neil Davidson and I disagreed on the nature of the Tory economic assault – I thought it was to some degree driven by a quasi-theoretical and ideological shift, while Neil thought that, as ever, the Tories ran on a combination of pragmatism and good luck – we nevertheless did agree that the core of the project had been to open the UK economy as a whole to unfettered market ‘forces’.[23]

In any case, the UK economy became, within a few years, one of the most open economies in the world and as a consequence became a playground of post-Big Bang speculative finance capital within which it was argued that the market, as a force of nature – rather than Tory ruling-class malice – was determining an ‘inevitable’ process of deindustrialisation. While industrially dependent regions and sub-regions as a whole took a battering, it was Scotland as a Northern and largely industrial outlier that bore a disproportionately heavy brunt.

The basic evidence of this experience can be found in an accompanying index, but it is by no means alarmist to suggest that with a triangulated outcome of a global recession, a post-Covid-19 mass unemployment outcome, and the all-but collapse of the North Sea oil and gas sectors, the Scottish economy is likely to enter a maelstrom.

However, since the point is not just to interpret the world, but to change it, I would suggest from the forgoing, in which neither corporatist nor laissez faire ‘strategies’ have worked, it is unlikely that any reformist solution will be able to address the social and economic crises that Scotland now faces. So it is time for the bruised but so-far unbroken agency of the working class and its communities to administer a Just Transition away from two centuries of economic chaos and social injustice.

There is evidence of a spirit of defiance. In November 2017, workers at the offshore renewables fabrication yards of BiFab in Fifeshire occupied their workplaces in defiance of closure. Similar actions were underway at the Ferguson shipyard on Clydebank until the Scottish government was forced to nationalise the company. The yard with more or less its original workforce is now engaged in the production of a new generation of hydrogen-powered ferries for the state-owned CalMac company that will soon be running carbon-free ferries between the Scottish islands.

At a strategic level, a new and radical environmental network, Scot.E3, is linking rank-and-file union activists with working-class communities and environmental organisations to fight for green jobs, climate justice and a democratic future. A new chapter in the political economy of Scotland may be about to be written.



[1] David Edgerton, ‘War, reconstruction and Nationalisation of Britain 1939-51’, Past and Present, 210, Supplement 6 (2011): 29-46; David Edgerton, The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth-Century History (London: Allen Lane, 2018).

[2] Distribution of Industry Act of 1946. This empowered the Board of Trade to implement the Advance Factory Programme. An Industrial Development (Scotland) scheme was established in the same year. The programme was terminated in 1976.

[3] UCS comprised five shipyards: Yarrow, John Brown, Govan Shipbuilders, Alexander Stephens and Scotstoun Marine.

[4] This extent of this influence was demonstrated by a speech given by Edward Heath at the Selsdon Park Hotel, Croydon in 1967, which clearly indicated a degree of acceptance of IEA market dogma.

[5] National Coal Board, Plan for Coal 1974. The Plan declared a target of an additional 47 million tonnes per year production from modernised existing capacity plus new developments in the central coalfields. In fact, the Plan led to the acceleration of pit closures in Scotland and South Wales. This was demonstrated by the fact that between the year of the plan (1974) and the Great Miners’ Strike (1984-5), the number of miners in Scotland fell by exactly half: from 21,000 to 10,500. Over the same period productivity rose by 22%.

[6] The 13,000 Ravenscraig workers came from an area with a total population of 60,000. For a concise history of the plant see: John Cowburn, Ravenscraig Steelworks 1954-1992,

[7] The £37m smelter at Invergordon was constructed on the assumption that with existing hydro capacity plus predicted cheap power from additional Scottish nuclear stations, the plant would be highly competitive- so much so that its construction was sufficient to anticipate enough demand to justify the construction of the Hunterson B AGR station. This in turn was sufficient for British Aluminium to qualify for a low interest loan of £30m. However, delays and subsequent underperformance of Hunterston B meant power charges had risen 31% over estimates which meant that by 1981 Invergordon was expected to make losses of £20m. See: for a brief history of the Invergordon smelter.  On nuclear fantasies see:

[8] Dundee was an early beneficiary of the Redistribution of Industry Act with the decision of the NCR Corporation to locate there. This was later followed by Michelin tyres and Morphy Richards, the light electrical appliances manufacturer. The intention of these assisted inward investment initiatives was to make good for the loss of jute mills employment.

[9] Small sites at Wych farm, Dorset, Formby on Merseyside and Hardstoft in Derbyshire had all produced ‘conventional’ oil from the 1920s onwards. See: Charles More, Black Gold: Britain and Oil in the Twentieth Century (London: Continuum, 2009), pp. 62-3.

[10] Øystein Noreng, The Oil Industry and Strategy in the North Sea (London: Croom Hill, 1980), pp.39-40.

[11] Noreng, Oil Industry, pp. 115-16.

[12] Christopher Harvie, Fool’s Gold: The Story of North Sea Oil (London: Penguin, 1995), pp. 225-7, 291-4. Harvie compares the respective extraction strategies of the UK and Norway, generally favouring Norway for opting for a regulated approach to production in contrast with UK rapid extraction emphases.

[13] Bryan Cooper and T.F. Gaskell, The Adventure of North Sea Oil (London: Heinemann, 1976), pp. 26-8.

[14] Initially it had been hoped that North Sea oil could also provide a fuel substitute for coal and thus another hedge against the miners. However the grades of oil first extracted proved unsuitable for refining into the necessary heavy Fuel Oil.

[15] The British National Oil Corporation (BNOC) was replaced by Britoil in 1990 which was to oversee the future wholly privatised oil industry with a ‘light hand’ of licence regulation.

[16] This arrangement also acted as a subsidy and incentive for the oil companies in that it assured them of a sale subsidy in the event oil falls in the international price.


[18] Report by Shell/Exxon crew of Block 211/29 Forties 1971. Quoted in: More, Black Gold, p. 162.

[19] UKCS/OIL and Gas UK 2014. In: Brian Parkin, ‘rs21 Industrial briefing: Scotland’s oil and gas after the price crash’(Leeds, May 2015).

[20] UK Extractive Transparency Initiative (EITI) Multi Stakeholder Group 2018.

[21] Business for Scotland. 10 facts about Scotland’s oil and independence. 29 July 2015. Figures quoted from UK Oil and Gas 2013 Economic Report.


[23] For what it is worth, I think on balance, Neil was right.


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