13.09.2018 Author: Caleb Maupin

Petro-Socialism in Scotland? Oil, Gas and Independence


As the Brexit process moves forward, calls for a second Scottish Independence Referendum are picking up steam. The SNP is calling for a second referendum, paving the way for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, and remain in the EU.

Imagine the people of a country, faced with increasingly difficult economic circumstances, organizing a mass movement and declaring independence. Then, imagine a new government that puts the country’s natural resources under state control and sells them on the international markets, and uses the proceeds to build infrastructure and subsidize the construction of a vibrant domestic economy.

This is a scenario that has played out many times throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The struggle for domestic control over oil profits has been central in a very high percentage of the revolutions and geopolitical confrontations of modern times. The “Yes” movement in Scotland fits in with a global pattern related to energy and the global capitalist market.

Oil Politics in Our Epoch

The central question of the 1917 Bolsheviks Revolution was whether or not Russia would continue fighting in the first world war. It wasn’t just a question of whether Russia’s soldiers would keep fighting the Germans, but also a question of whether the Baku oil fields of Azerbajjin, controlled by the Czarist government, would continue fueling the war machines of allied countries. In the Russian Civil War that follow the October Revolution, the British military was sent to Azerbaijan to seize back the oil fields belonging to the Rothschild family. Thousands died as the Bolsheviks and the British empire battled over decisive, petroleum-rich territories.

Following the second world war, “Patriotic officers” and Arab Nationalists across the Middle East revolted against western puppet governments. The Baath Arab Socialist movement that took power in Iraq and Syria argued that the oil of the Middle East should be used to improve the lives of the people as they moved to create a unified state. The 1979 revolution in Iran resulted in the creation an economy described by Imam Khomeni as “not capitalism, but Islam,” with state-controlled oil subsidizing all kinds of social programs.

The Bolivarian movement came to power in Caracas in 1999 on a platform of opposing both capitalism and socialism. In 2003, after defeating a coup attempt, Hugo Chavez announced his intention of building “21st Century Socialism.” Venezuela’s state oil company was reorganized, and a huge state apparatus was created. The Bolivarian movement, calling for domestic control of the economy of Latin America, soon spread to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.

Even 100 years after the Russian Revolution, control of natural resources remains essential to Russia’s geopolitical position. Putin’s political strength is based on his rebooting of the Russian economy, utilizing Gazprom and Rosneft,  two state-controlled energy corporations. The United States and Britain are vocally infuriated by the “Nordstream 2” pipeline, a program which will increase Russia’s economic presence in the European Union as an energy supplier.

Even within the United States, oil has been central in political conflicts. Back in the 1930s, Huey Long, the famous and infamous Governor and Senator, built bridges, hospitals and provided education by heavily taxing the extraction and refining of Louisiana’s oil. Huey Long became a national figure with his “Share Our Wealth” movement before being gunned down on the steps of the State Capitol Building.

More recently, under the Obama administration, when oil prices dramatically fell in 2014, it became no secret that the “fracking cowboys” aligned with the Republican Party were screaming in pain. However, the four super major oil companies, much cozier with the Democratic Party, saw their monopolistic position enhanced. In Obama’s final State of the Union address in January of 2016, he joked about how cheap gasoline was, getting massive applause and laughter from the democratic side of the isle. Just two months later, conservative fracking tycoon Aubrey McClendon died after driving his car into a wall at high speeds, an apparent suicide after being financially ruined.

Scottish Nationalism vs. Austerity

The 2014 Independence Referendum in Scotland was much closer than observers expected. Independence and nationalism had occupied the position of a fringe issue in Scotland, but in the lead-up to the 2014 vote, it emerged to become a mainstream view, especially among millennials.

The 2014 vote was not a referendum on cultural independence, or preserving the traditions of Scottish people. The issue was economics. Scotland has long been a stronghold of socialism in Britain, and the “Yes Scotland” movement has become a vehicle for opposing cuts in social spending.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) with 35 out of the 59 Scottish seats in the UK parliament, has continued to wave a banner against austerity. Scotland continues to provide free education for University students, as well as assistance to low-income mothers. In four Scottish cities, Fife, North Ayrshire, Edinborough and Glasgow, the SNP controlled-local government is providing a universal basic income.

The SNP platform does not only contain anti-austerity planks, but also an item that scares big energy corporations more than anything. The 2017 SNP conference explicitly called for “creating a not for profit oil company for Scotland.”

This comes in the context of British Petroleum, the Wall Street and London energy giant, declaring that it will double oil and gas production in North Sea by 2020. In January of 2018, Mark Thomas of BP declared: “We expect to double production to 200,000 barrels per day by 2020 and keep producing beyond 2050.”

However, if Scotland becomes independent, and the SNP’s call for a state-run “not for profit” oil company comes into existence, it might not be London bankers who enrich themselves with North Sea oil and gas. Scottish independence could lead the country down the petro-socialist road. A welfare state and domestic economy could be subsidized with energy revenue, controlled by the government.

As calls for a new referendum escalate amid the Brexit process, it can be predicted that the allies of super major energy giants and the titanic banking entities wedded to them, will continue to oppose independence for Scotland.

Meanwhile, it can also be predicted that the global bloc of opposition, the forces that urge the USA to stop meddling in Venezuela’s affairs, the forces that understand the importance of China’s Belt and Road program of infrastructure investment, the voices that recognize the right of EU countries to import natural gas from Russia; the entities disturbed by the hostile threats against Iran; they will favor Scotland’s right to break away, not simply in terms of politics, but most especially in terms of economics.

Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.