IN the 1970s, the SNP took up what would become one of the party’s best-known slogans: “It’s Scotland’s Oil.” There was a quiet genius to it. In three small words lay the economic case for independence, the argument for Scottish statehood and the injustice of the existing structure of the British state.

Of course, whether Scotland’s oil could sustain a new, independent nation, has been hotly debated. In recent years, this has come under more scrutiny – not least because of the climate implications involved.

Whatever your view of the technical detail, the slogan seemed to connect. It was during the general election of 1974, when the SNP recorded their highest return of MPs in the party’s history up until that point, that “It’s Scotland’s Oil” featured in campaign material and as a central plank of the independence message. It raised an important question: Why should Scotland’s oil wealth end up under the control of the UK establishment, rather than with the Scottish people?


What about now?

In 2023, the independence movement lacks this cutting edge. A complacent SNP leadership, despite enjoying unrivalled political power, failed to present the kind of case required. One that spoke to the concerns of Scots who, after 10 years of austerity, a pandemic, and then a cost of living emergency, needed to feel part of a vision for real change.

The much-vaunted “White Papers” revealing a “revamped” case for independence appeared to stop halfway through. What they did produce was thin soup. There was no attempt to trailblaze on display. No sense that the powers of independence could help build a new society. One not just free from Tory pantomime villains, but the ruinous and failed economic model championed by both New Labour and Conservative governments for decades.

Renewable energy could – indeed, should – have been central to the call for independence. As people see their bills soar alongside the vast profits of the big oil corporations, there is surely an easy case to make for bringing Scotland’s national green assets into public hands. If it was Scotland’s oil, then it should also be Scotland’s wind. Why should ordinary Scots face the false choice of heating or eating, when they live in a country brimming with green energy potential?

It is true that energy is not devolved. It would not be possible under the current set-up to nationalise Scotland’s oil and renewable energy. That is why it is such a powerful argument for independence. But that does not mean the argument for such a vision could not be made in the here and now.

With independence, we will nationalise the Scottish energy grid. We will eradicate fuel poverty in doing so. And we will make certain our natural resources work for the people. At a time like this, that is surely a powerful message. Yet it has not been conveyed or rallied around by the outgoing SNP leadership.

Instead, moves in this kind of direction have been shelved and halted, despite the views of the SNP membership. The First Minister announced the setting up of a National Public Energy Agency in 2017 to great fanfare. Despite it being the central talking point of her conference speech, the idea was kicked into the long grass in practice. Years passed before SNP members mobilised to raise the issue again.

In 2021, they voted overwhelmingly for the policy at their conference. The vote was, to be blunt, forgotten about as soon as the conference ended.

Interestingly, The Ferret revealed that in 2020, government ministers were having meetings, outside of the public record, with big businesses seeking to cash in on Scotland’s renewables industry. The Scottish Government would launch a “green investment portfolio” worth £3 billion of Scottish green assets.

This package, a substantial component of Scotland’s economic future, is being bought up by private and foreign capital and will never be owned in common unless there is a seismic political change.

ScotWind has resulted in large tracts of the renewable wind energy grid being handed over cheaply, to the likes of Shell and British Petroleum (BP), without guarantees of supply line jobs. Billions in profits will be lost every year.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s six offshore wind farms paid a derisory £150,000 to nearby communities in the 12 months from May 2021-22.

How do we make it work for Scotland?

If you want to set up a functioning, independent state, you need infrastructure. If you want a meaningful independence that unlocks the democratic ownership and control of resources, you can’t sell them all off in advance. You certainly can’t flush billions in profits from your most valuable assets down the drain. All the talk of “resilience” is for nought unless it is attached to an economic and industrial strategy which embeds the security of energy and much else into the future of the country. It should be at the core of the argument for independence. But it must be actively made, and unconstrained by the boardrooms of the multinationals.

The National: Jim Sillars. Picture: GARY DOAK/Alamy Live News

Jim Sillars (above), a member of the Labour Party when the “It’s Scotland’s Oil” slogan came to the fore in the 1970s, made the following point in the 2014 referendum: “BP, in an independent Scotland, will need to learn the meaning of nationalisation, in part or in whole, as it has in other countries who have not been as soft as we have forced to be. We will be the masters of the oil fields, not BP or any other of the majors.”

The same spirit should be applied to renewable energy. That is the kind of popular stance that has been missing under the present SNP leadership. Independence is off the agenda as a practical reality for many years to come – in no small part because the argument simply hasn’t been made.

Rebuilding the case will take time and will emerge through debate and discussion. Central to it then, now and into the future, will be the question of Scottish resources, who owns them and in whose interests they are deployed.