NoNSense: England Stole Scotland's Seas
It's good to share things with each other & the border for oil wasn't moved anyway.
A conspiracy theory that refuses to die is that, on the eve of devolution in 1999 the Labour government secretly moved Scotland’s sea border and handed oil fields to England. Various memes and misinformation claim that a 1987 border was replaced with one that steals huge tracts of our sea bed.
For example, The National’s false fact-checking service claims that the border was changed in order to “annex Scottish oil fields”. A petition signed by thousands of dupes demands that something that never happened be reversed. And the favourite conspiracist theorist of Scottish nationalism made an error-filled video on the issue.
Don’t Repeat Their Frame: These memes invite us to participate in an imaginary post-independence fight with England over resources that today are neither Scottish nor English but shared. Engaging in this framing helps nationalists. They ignore the many other boundaries in place in Scottish maritime law and obsess only about the one with England because it serves the nationalist fantasy of a rapacious England stealing our resources.
Instead, start conversations with non-nationalist values before explaining why these claims are wrong and explain why people are choosing to spread a falsehood: We share some things with each other because it makes us all better off, but it is important to understand the border for oil was never changed. Those who created this myth know it isn’t true but their political cause needs people to think of England as an enemy we are fighting with over resources.
Claim: This changed the boundary.
The legislation in 1999 created a boundary for the purposes of fishing and other matters that were about to be devolved to the new Scottish Parliament. We didn’t need this boundary before because we didn’t have a devolved parliament before.
Before then there was another boundary further to the south. This boundary still exists and covers oil and gas. As this graphic from the Marine Division of the SNP Government shows Scotland actually has many maritime borders, there are the Territorial Sea; the Exclusive Economic Zone for Scotland and neighbouring countries; Continental Shelf Limits; Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundary; Civil Jurisdiction (Offshore Activities) boundary; Renewable Energy Zone & Gas Importation and Storage Zone Limits; and those set by the Scottish Marine Regions Order 2015.
As the SNP Government’s own map shows, the 1987 border, that this conspiracy theory would have you believe was removed, is still in place. Don’t believe me, have a play about on the SNP Government’s website with the various boundaries and limits.
There are lots of different lines for different purposes, reflecting international norms. The important point is that the 1987 border which they claim was removed for the purposes of oil and gas is still in place for oil and gas.
Claim: This boundary steals oil fields.
The government at the time went out of its way to say that this has absolutely nothing to do with oil. Presenting the legislation to parliament, the Minister could not have been clearer in telling the Committee:
“I wish to make it clear, though it should be self-evident, that the boundary has no significance for other matters at sea which are reserved. In particular, it has no relevance to the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production at sea, which are reserved matters.”
This is simple: the 1999 order creates a boundary for devolved issues such as fishing or monitoring of pollution. Oil and gas are not devolved so this boundary has no impact on oil and gas. The order changed nothing to do with oil and gas.
Claim: This was done in secret at the last minute before devolution.
This was legislation that was presented to Parliament two and half months before the Scottish Parliament was created, not as some claim on the day before. It was adopted after Ministers answered questions from parliamentarians in both houses of parliament. The name of the piece of secondary legislation, The Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, hardly tries to conceal its subject matter. The establishment of the fisheries boundary was covered in the newspapers back in 1999, where this daft conspiracy theory began.
Something that was scrutinised for months in Parliament and the media can hardly be claimed to be secret or last-minute.
Claim: This boundary underplays oil revenues and exaggerates our deficit.
Ironically, the people using the 1999 boundary for the purposes of oil fields are the SNP Government themselves in calculating the annual GERS figures on Scotland’s fiscal position. It is worth noting though that it is the SNP Government that decides what boundary to use when calculating Scotland’s share of oil revenues. The SNP could change the way oil revenues are allocated but choose not to because they know the 1999 boundary makes a negligible difference.
The reason they haven’t changed it is that to do so would make a tiny difference to the oil revenues concerned. For example, even if every penny of the UK’s oil and gas revenue in the last five years was allocated to us (which makes no sense, but let’s do it anyway) it would have added an average of £138 million a year to Scottish revenues a time when our deficit averaged £22,491 million. If this is a dastardly plan to explode our deficit, choosing to add a fraction of a percentage to it seems a strange way to do it.
Finally, it is worth noting that Scotland’s share of UK oil revenues in GERS is *more* than 100% over the last few years as companies are claiming refunds on previous years’ payments against current losses and decommissioning costs.
In recent years Scotland has kept every penny of oil revenues while also getting our share of UK funding - around an extra £10 billion a year for our public services. The geographical allocation of oil revenues in our national statistics is decided by the SNP and if they genuinely believe that the border should be drawn somewhere else to improve the case for leaving the UK, they could do it tomorrow.
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