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Scottish Parliament Speech: Scottish-Norwegian Commercial Co-operation (June 2007)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

"To Norroway, to Norroway,
To Norroway over the faem.
The King's daughter o' Norroway
'Tis thou maun bring her hame."

We have a long cultural connection with Norway. It has not always been the happiest one, as the fate of Sir Patrick Spens proved, but as Scots we had a great role in the formation of modern Norway. William Christie, who came from a Scots merchant family of Bergen, was an architect of the 1814 constitution. Colin Archer was one of the creators of the Norwegian shipbuilding industry. He was a pioneer of diesel engine design in that country and the constructor of Nansen's ship, the Fram, which was used to explore the polar region.

We heard from Ted Brocklebank about the national composer Grieg, who came from a Scots family. The great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen always wanted to be Scots, although he never was. His great champion in Britain and the Anglophone world was Colin Archer's cousin William Archer, who publicised him and got Bernard Shaw interested.

However, we have to be careful. Despite the great bond that we have with Norway, we misplayed our hand in negotiations across the North Sea in various periods. I move forward to 1965. In negotiations on dividing the subsea resources of the North Sea, the UK Government lost interest and allowed the Norwegians to extend their zone of the sea to the point of equidistance rather than terminating it at the 600m-deep trench, which is far closer to Norway. During those negotiations, Scotland was perhaps deprived of the Frigg, Statfjord and Ekofisk fields. That defeat, had we known it at the time, was probably worse than Culloden.

In 1900, Norway had a population of 2.3 million. Today, its population is 4.5 million. If Scotland had followed Norway's pattern of moderate social democracy, the creation of a welfare state and a flexible specialist manufacturing centre, our population today would be nearly 10 million. Baden-Württemberg and Sweden, whose populations were the same as Scotland's in 1900, now have populations well north of 10 million. A country can be a small country, successful or not, if it forgets and stops trying to be something bigger.

More setbacks were ahead. From the beginning of the oil discoveries, Norway had a low depletion policy like the one that was urged on the Scottish Office by Dr Gavin McCrone in 1973. Scotland did not get such a policy. Neither was the creation of an oil fund, which was promised by all parties in the second 1974 election, followed up. Instead, Scotland was put on the drip feed of the Barnett formula. What happened to the Norwegian oil fund? It is now worth £73 billion, or £15,000 per Norwegian. British private debt alone amounts to £1.3 trillion, or £22,000 per Briton.

What should we do in the future? We should reach a deal with our Norwegian neighbours; create a North Sea version of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries; and keep the price of oil up in the era of peak oil, because we are probably quite close to $100 per barrel. We should use the income as collateral to obtain high-tech equipment and training and to obtain some funds from that marvellous bounty of Norway.

Lying empty in Kirkcaldy in the middle of my large constituency is the merchant's house, which was expensively restructured about four years ago but is still looking for a tenant. When we have a hovercraft across the Forth, I hope that the Parliament will think of the building as a headquarters for further negotiations across the North Sea.

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