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Scottish independence: so whose oil is it anyway?

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Chris Mason Chris Mason | 23:05 UK time, Thursday, 26 January 2012

Try having a conversation about Scottish independence, and see how long it lasts before the word 'oil' features. You're not likely to be kept waiting long.

So, for day four of our roadtrip for 5live, Radio 4 and the BBC News website, we turned up in Aberdeen, 180 miles up the road from Wednesday's stop over in Coldstream.

This is a city that might not smell of oil, but you can see smell the wealth it's generated. Many of the buildings in the city centre are not just granite but grandiose; not just imposing but imperious.

We get chatting to a bunch of Aberdonians cowering outside a bingo hall, cigarettes in hand. The question 'so whose oil is it anyway?' is incendiary. For some it's an invitation for analysis. For many it's an invitation for passion. "Scotland's!" shouts one woman instinctively. Many of those we spoke to agreed. And yet for others, to answer the question with a 'yes' is to be in favour of independence. We put the question to one guy who was instantly defiant. "It's British!" he said, with a smirk, anticipating my next question. "And yes, I want to keep the union!"

We head next to Aberdeen University, to meet Alex Kemp. Alex is a Professor of Petroleum Economics and so can answer what struck us as the three big questions relating to North Sea oil and Scottish independence. How much is left? How long will it last? And, yes, whose oil is it anyway?

To paraphrase a career's worth of research in sentence: about a third of it is left, it'll last about 40 years and the vast majority of it is in Scottish waters.

But when we spoke to Jake Molloy, who spent 17 years working offshore and is now the regional organiser for the RMT trade union, which represents oil workers, he had more questions for us than we had for him. For Jake, the uncertainties surrounding possible independence are almost infinite. How would the oil industry be taxed in an independent Scotland? Would the multinational companies that run many of the platforms take fright? What would be the impact on the scores of workers from elsewhere - including England, Wales and Northern Ireland? The 26,000 people, who spent weeks at a time on the rigs in the North Sea, are asking these questions, Jake told us. There are hundreds of thousands working in, or supporting, the industry at large.

Chris Mason is 5 live's Political Reporter. You can follow Chris on Twitter - @ChrisMasonBBC.

Chris is travelling with 5 live producer Chris Brindley.


  • Comment number 1.

    It's mine and I shall be raising the price per barrel next week. I have to pay for my caravan holiday in Norfolk somehow!

    This issue will run and run Chris... no one will ever agree.

  • Comment number 2.

    Under international law it is fairly clear that 94%-95% of the oil fields and about 52% of the gas fields are in Scottish waters. This information is widely distributed over the internet if one can be bothered to look for it. A link to a map is below.


  • Comment number 3.

    "Would the multinational companies that run many of the platforms take fright?"

    For goodness sake, multinational oil companies operate in some of the most unstable regimes in the world. They're going to take fright because Scotland is an independent country? I don't think so!

  • Comment number 4.

    Shell, knowing that independence is a distinct possibility in three years time announced a £4.5 BILLION investment in their Scottish exploration and production capability towards the end of last year. Big multinational running scared of independence? You judge for yourself.

  • Comment number 5.

    "We get chatting to a bunch of Aberdonians cowering outside a bingo hall, cigarettes in hand. "

    Why would they be cowering?

    I'll presume it's just bad writing .. not some kind of negative depiction of the people of Aberdeen. Mind you this is the BBC ... a byword for propaganda.

    It is Scotland's oil.
    Read this for some idea about its value:

  • Comment number 6.

    Whose oil is it?

    Try reading the secret McCrone report that shows how the westminster government lied to the people of Scotland about the oil that is rightfully theirs.


    Wesminster has stolen the wealth of Scotland for the last 50 years. And then they have the insolence to tell us we are subsidy junkies.

    Just how bad is this theivery? 23% of children in Scotland live below the poverty line. That's how bad it is. What is worse this theft has been supported by members of the london unionist political parties who were born Scots. Shame on the lot of them.

  • Comment number 7.

    Well over 90% is in scottish waters so
    the vast majority of it (+ over half of the gas)
    will go to Scotland.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nowhere else to post this but just heard yet another mention of a low key crime in Salford on the Five Live news. Guys and gals in the newsroom ... no one really cares. Concentrate on the national stuff - I'm sure what remains of the local BBC news service can deal with Salford crime.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi all, cheers for reading and for your comments. xyz - the bunch we chatted to outside the bingo hall were cowering, behind pillars, from the cold wind and rain. So were we when we were chatting to them. I grant you that for some the definition of the word means much more than to "shrink away or crouch especially for shelter," but that's what I meant. I'll let you be the judge of whether the word was duff in this in instance. If most readers attach a stronger meaning to the word, I plead guilty to poor choice of language.

    As for your reference to "propaganda" - I'm sorry, but that's nonsense. A categoric not guilty there. In almost ten years as a daily broadcast news reporter for the BBC, no one has ever told me what to say/given me a line to take or whatever. It doesn't happen.

  • Comment number 10.

    The oil, like all natural resources belong to the earth not arbitrary frontiers and borders that have been drawn up throughout history.

  • Comment number 11.

    Mason: "Propaganda.....nonesense." But it's a pretty safe assumption no-one at the BBC is going to stray far from the House Style.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi Welcome2theMachine, cheers as ever for reading. I enjoy your contributions and debate. Now, on this issue of the 'house style.' I have reported for loads of different BBC outlets, with loads of different styles and approaches. Sure, they are all committed to due impartiality, but beyond that, believe me, what is lapped up by one editor can have the next one wincing!

  • Comment number 13.

    Truth is Scotland is not the main owner of the oil. Orkney and Scarpa Flow are not Scottish. Orkney will choose between the UK and Norway. Its a myth that the SNP and Salmond often play, that eveything north or north east of Scotland is Scottish. Salmond likes to tell the Scots that the oil is not English. He is right it belongs to the UK. However split up the Uk and you will find most of the oil is not Scottish either.
    Be careful Scotland you may well be losing far more than you have now.


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