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Scottish Independence: “No” vote and Salmond resignation herald big changes

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REVISED 14.00
FURTHER REVISED 17.40 TO TAKE ACCOUNT OF SALMOND RESIGNATION

The outcome is clear; the No’s prevail. The margin is not as slim as had been predicted but it is narrow nonetheless, in my view.

It should signal huge change in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK … a very necessary re-engineering at many levels, not least for the individual and for business.
I reject the “Torygraph’s” headline claim that “Scotland overwhelmingly rejects independence”.

Hang-on! 2million voted No; but 1.6million voted Yes.

Mind you, perhaps the Telegraph’s scribblers got their information off the Economist, which has in the past more than once made a spectacular fool of itself over Big Oil.

I quote from its Britain Survives blog today: “A million Scots have just voted to quit the union, even in the knowledge that this would probably make them poorer.”
No, it was 1.6million, as stated above.

The Economist continues: “Only a strong turnout by Scottish pensioners—the only age-group thought likely to have voted mainly for the union—foiled them.”
Really? That is a sweeping statement if ever there was one.

And then it says: “This, on a night of huge relief for most Britons, is truly shocking. It means the British nation state has survived; yet it remains on life support.”
Bravo! Correct. Marks: one out of three according to my thumbs.

Back to being serious; had the answers to various critical questions asked by many of us been clearer or fairer, then today’s 55% – No: 45% Yes outcome could easily have been different and the Yes camp could well have secured victory, of that I am in little doubt.

I particularly cite pensions; currency and Europe. Don’t forget, this was not just a battle with London; it was also a tangle with our neighbours on the other side of the North Sea.

How dare Brussels threaten to disenfranchise 5million EU citizens the way it did. I am sure this stupidity weighed on many minds … personally and for business.

I had visions of Brussels being challenged in the international court over this; perhaps now it will be the Catalans as they ramp up the pressures for freedom from Madrid; even if Mother Spain has told them to take a hike.

As an aside, had a third question been made available to all of us who voted regarding Devo Max, Devo Max-plus or suchlike, then perhaps that would have attracted the majority. It would have secured my vote for sure.

However, the threat of 18 months of phoney war between Edinburgh and London had the Yes camp won has been emphatically removed. That said, we are now entering a still far too long tunnel of uncertainty as a different relationship between “us” and “them” is hammered out.

The process has already started, with key announcements already made, even before the formal declaration regarding the referendum outcome has been made. That is good.

But when might there be concrete outcomes? Before or after the General Election?

I want to know. Business wants to know. We all want to know.

The Tories appear to realise that they can no longer get away with what has for many years been the status quo where considerable arrogance has been displayed towards the Scots … both through heritage and those of us who have chosen this great wee country as a place to live, work and raise families. I am in the latter category.

But let me now turn to the world of energy … oil and gas and renewables. The future for both must be redefined.

In particular, Holyrood MUST be given a say in the North Sea. Now that the cat is out of the bag and the average Scot in the street knows that 84% or so of the UK’s offshore oil and gas resources are in Scottish waters.

London MUST NOT be allowed to claim the entirety of this resource to itself … by that I mean Treasury receipts and control … doling out cash gruel via the Dickensian Barnett Formula or whatever ends up replacing it.

London must hand Edinburgh a partial direct mandate over the North Sea resource, including receiving a proportion of the tax revenues directly into Holyrood.

That way there may be a better chance too that the resource will be better exploited. Such a move would greatly reinforce Scotland’s proprietorial interest.

I am among those who believe that a poor job has been done of managing the North Sea; now we have an opportunity to right this and to go after the remaining prize in a systematic manner, with strict oversight of all licence operators.

No more wriggling out of obligations, no more being difficult over critical issues like access to infrastructure, no more all sorts of things that should not be.

I too am among those who believe that we should aim far higher than the 15billion or so billion barrels oil equivalent resource that supposedly remains to be exploited.

As the Commission comprising Professors Alex Kemp and Rita Marcella, with independent industry alumnus Dick Winchester and entrepreneur Melfort Campbell, reported a few months ago … the target should be the 24billion topline estimate. Aim high. Oh and, by the way, count in the supply chain and go for TVA … total value added.

Said Commission also made valuable observations regarding oil and gas-related R&D and fiscal possibilities.

Much of the UK Continental Shelf has never been properly surveyed and some work has simply been filed away, hidden, perhaps even obfuscated. Then there is the whole tight hydrocarbons scene, which has been barely touched, though there are signs of activity around Southern Gas Basin Carboniferous plays … at last.

Kimmeridge clays are back in the discussion (at least academically). Then what about the Firth of Clyde which, according to a commentary on this board a few days ago, may indeed offer useful hydrocarbons potential.

Such issues represent a chance for Holyrood to apply heavy-duty pressure on London and to keep hammering away.

Holyrood should also apply pressure on the London Treasury regarding the fiscal review of the UK Continental Shelf. The system is broken. It has become a joke and must be made fit-for-purpose, simple and fair to the producers.

Indeed, with 84% of our most valuable offshore natural resource in Scottish waters, whoever becomes the First Minister, now that Alex Salmond has sprung his resignation upon us all this afternoon, has a duty to ensure that every opportunity is taken to ramp up the pressure on that score.

However, no-one in the present Scottish government has anything like the grip on oil and gas that Salmond has. Fergus Ewing has built up a reasonable knowledge, and he’s good on renewables, but he has a way to go with oil and gas, and I think he would be the first to agree about that.

The Scottish government could set itself up as a watchdog and harry and snap at the heels of Treasury first secretary Danny Alexander and chancellor George Osborne; also the UK’s most recent energy minister appointee … Matthew Hancock, who hasn’t been anywhere near Aberdeen since he got the job and who is being increasingly regarded as a joke.

Of course, Aberdeen is the natural home for the UK’s offshore industry and, as most in the sector are aware, the super-regulator advocated by the Wood Review and accepted by government as a valid recommendation, will indeed have its home in the Granite City, which could help the Scottish case for greater autonomy.

But what about renewable energy?

That Scotland’s renewables resource is massive has long been clear and there are various significant projects to show for it; at least in terms of power generation capacity.

There is a modicum of progress on the technology development front, but there needs to be far more and there needs to be really serious money made available to underpin development and introduction to market.

So far, it seems to me that the best wave and tidal technologies developed here have been snapped up by foreign interests.

As for wind, we just ain’t there on the technology front unless one counts some innovative gearbox research and development work.

Now, I’m not at all clear regarding the efficacy of the Edinburgh-domiciled Green Investment Bank which invests only in projects not technologies and I am suspicious of the Energy Technologies Institute located in Loughborough and which has lately been ploughing money into foreign technologies.

Where’s the private sector capital to invest in renewables technology companies? Scotland does badly when it comes to good old venture capital, though at least VCs regularly comb Aberdeen for opportunities. But those are oil and gas-related.

I am clear that Holyrood must be vigilant in ensuring that UK national institutions such as the GIB and ETI, not forgetting the City of London mob, treat Scotland fairly.

Thankfully, because the Brussels issue has also been removed, it means that any projects in receipt of EU money, such as Aberdeen’s now fully consented European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, are no longer threatened potentially threatened, not that this was ever openly discussed in the run up to the referendum.

To conclude; whether you were a No or a Yes voter, or maybe someone who didn’t participate, the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK will be forever different.
We all have a chance to help define just how different, not least on the energy front.

Moreover, the relationship between Scotland and Brussels will also be different.

Commissioner Jose Manuel Barrroso and the current EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker have in my view insulted every resident of Scotland with their intransigence and they must be made to apologise to us all as individuals and our business community.

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