South Scotland MSP raises the mystery of 1980s west coast oil capped on Westmister instructions

This is not one story but a cluster of stories. Chic Brodie, South Scotland South MSP has sent us a Press Release which:

  • draws attention to the new oil exploration licences granted in the Autumn of 2012 for the potentially rich and certainly difficult area west of Shetland – and for similar deep sea areas off the west coast, in Argyll waters;
  • raises the issue of apparently successful exploration drilling in the 1980s, off Ayrshire in the mouth of the Firth of Clyde and at the northern end of the Irish Sea;
  • shares the story that these encouraging test drills were capped and not developed on government [then Westminster] instructions;
  • offers the hypothesis that this may have been because production wells in those sea areas would have been a hazard to submarines movements in and out of Faslane and the Holy Loch;
  • publishes a letter he has written to current Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, with a Freedom of Information request to see Ministry of Defence;
  • publishes a similar letter he has written to the US Secretary of Defence – since the submarines concerned were the American Polaris subs and the issue of risk to these craft from oil wells in these particular sea areas would certainly have been known to the American government;
  • makes it known that he has lodged Freedom of Information requests to the MoD and to the local authorities concerned, one of which is Argyll and Bute – asking to see correspondence and any other material on this subject from the time it was going on.

There’s enough here to keep a team of researchers busy for some time – and what a collection of stories.

Chic Brodie says: ‘What it also highlights is there was a missed opportunity to start to develop these resources off the Coasts of Ayrshire and the South West of Scotland some 30 years ago.  It is important that we find out why development was stopped and why there has been no progress since an apparent successful exploration in these waters in the early 1980s’.

Developing his argument, he says: ‘I hope that the Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense can shed some light on the reasons why these explorations were never followed up.

‘It would be very disappointing if it transpired that the already deeply unpopular stationing of weapons of mass destruction on Scottish soil had deterred economic development which would have brought considerable gains to Ayrshire, the Southwest and the islands of Scotland.’

The recent exploration licences granted in the Autumn of 2012 in the UK’s 27th licensing round and to which Mr Brodie refers, are to the ambitious Parkmead company, awarded one large licence which includes ten blocks in the frontier Rockall Trough area – west of Tiree, Coll and Colonsay; and another 15 blocks elsewhere in UK waters during the same round.

Tom Cross, Executive Chairman of Parkmead, has said of the licence awards: ‘We are delighted with these extensive new licence awards which will significantly increase our oil and gas operations on the UKCS.

‘These awards complete an exceptional year for Parkmead, in which we have secured first production for the Group in the Netherlands and also expanded our asset base in the UK North Sea through the acquisition of DEO Petroleum plc.’

Chic Brodie says: ‘Further confirmation of these ‘riches’ off our coast was confirmed in a report produced for Dumfries and Galloway in 1999: Oil and Gas –the Irish Sea.

‘That report highlighted that the South West of Scotland is ideally placed to benefit from new discoveries. Prestwick and Glasgow Airports could be ideal transport hubs in the supply chain, just as would be the engineering expertise inherent in that part of Scotland.’

This is one of the most interesting matters for today – not only might we be looking at oil production in the deep waters west of the most far flung islands of Argyll; but we have a possible political whodunnit dating to the early 1980s to play with.

We are asking Chic Brodie to keep us posted on developments as he pursues this matter; and will add later to the copies of the material he sent us, not all of which came through.

Below is the first page [the second was missing] of Mr Brodie’s letter to Philip Hammond MP, UK Defence Secretary; and the letter he has written to the CEO of the three local authorities affected by the possible stop down of oil exploration where in the 1980s.

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46 Responses to South Scotland MSP raises the mystery of 1980s west coast oil capped on Westmister instructions

  1. West Freugh is underused in the hands of Qinetiq and is close to the railhead at Stranraer, where coincidently there is a now unused all-tide harbour with 5m depth at the quayside and an adjacent railway station; depending where the gas finds are this may be of more use than Blackpool or Carlisle, although the absence of maintenance and airfield control infrastructure might mean Prestwick makes more sense in the short term.

    I’d like to have a go at smoking a bit of whatever the chap who thought Garlieston could make a good deepwater berth was on; that must be good stuff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. I wonder if there’s anyone in Campbeltown has any knowledge of the activity 30 years ago? I distinctly remember seeing a Geco (as it was then) seismic survey ship docked at Campbeltown.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • I was brought up in Ayrshire and remembered the exploration drilling taking place. I also remember the local MP (David Lambie, Labour) making a bit of a stooshie that the MoD were hampering progress. It therefore didn’t take long to find relevant commentary.
      From the Glasgow Herald on 14 September 1983: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19830914&id=ivU9AAAAIBAJ&sjid=CUkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3594,2623144
      There are plenty more articles if anyone took the opportunity to reasearch (e.g. there are loads of Hansard Q&A’s, notable from George Foulkes!)

      Include Brian Wilson and Brian Donohoe, local Labour MPs, and the local Labour party in a FoI request and you’ll (hopefully) get some answers

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Maybe ask on the Kintyre Forum, its a great forum and Im sure someone will remember way back then.
      Im sure I saw some sort of drilling activity a few years ago, and thought…gaun yersel Alec, but maybe it wisny lookin for oil, might have been windmills?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. This is interesting. It basically exposes the claims of the SNP about the oil fields of the west of Scotland which will lead to an oil boom as nothing more than hearsay, speculation and rumour. Having made the claims that there is lots of oil (very conveniently after publication fo MR Swinney’s report saying oil revenues will decline), they have dispatched Mr Brodie to work out if there is actually any truth behind it, hoping that they will find some anti-Westminster material into the bargain.

    I’ll place money that the response will be – submarine story is nonsense, the oil is there, but it’s too deep, too difficult and too expensive to extract – but good luck trying.

    Or maybe they are about to expose a Westminster coup – that they have deliberately kept these oil fields unexplored to secure future revenues for the UK – now that would have been a clever idea, rather than blow it all at once.

    Och, i’m being cynical again.

    They should have researched FIRST before making what seem to be unsubstantiated claims.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

    • Jamie: the current projections on oil production and future tax revenues has very little input from WoS fields at present so the projections that have been making the news are not dependent on WoS reserves. Proven WoS reserves, however, only form about 20% of the UK total oil reserves (the other 80% being in the North Sea). Future exploration may increase this but at present it is small beer compared with the mature (and easy to access) North Sea fields.

      Potential inshore (and indeed onshore) oil reserves within Scotland are potentially valuable but also much more controversial because of their possible environmental impact both of the drilling and the possibility of a spill.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • On the Clyde the proximity of the Ayrshire coast and the shallowness of the water would probably mean no permanent structures as a planning condition, just subsea equipment installed with periodic visits by the drill rig for rework.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • These mythical fields in Argyll waters are not factored into any calculations. They would be an added bonus, but they don’t exist at the moment even on paper.

      Maybe you are confused by the investment in the Harris and Barra fields – these are 160km East of Shetland.

      Or perhaps you have been confused by the acronym WOS Jamie, as used on the diagram on p.11 of the Oil and Gas UK Activity 2013 Survey (an industry publication). WOS stands for West of Shetland, not West of Scotland

      Amazing isn’t it – Darling (failed chancellor) tells us that oil revenues can fluctuate . . . but when all indicators show they are almost certainly about to fluctuate upwards we are told it is all a load of rubbish.

      I have many friends and relatives in the oil industry, and they tell me everything is pointing to a boom coming over the next few years. It will not last for ever, but it could help give an independent Scotland a flying start.

      Rejoice!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

      • I notice there’s another plaintive ‘we can’t recruit enough trained staff’ article about the North Sea on the back page of the Herald; cough up for training then. The same article has the related moan about rising costs, due in no small part to contractor dayrates going through the roof and general wage inflation because there’s not enough bodies being trained; according to the writer the talent is being tempted away by the fleshpots of Brazil and Angola over the delights of the ‘German Ocean’ and ABZ.

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  4. Fluctuate upwards?
    Either way, it is not really good news for the average person is it? We already know what happens to petrol prices when oil rises – funnily enough – they go up too. They just don’t come down much when oil does.
    So if we take this down to a practical level – fuel prices are set to rocket. This matter is something the Yes campaign have been very quiet on (maybe because no-one has asked them yet). I remember someone on here lambasting me for suggesting that Norway had money to invest in road infrastructure because they had the highest fuel prices in Europe.
    I must admit I’ve maybe been confused – I’ve been confusing the oil boom press release with other SNP propaganda released at a similar time which is pointing out all the various reserves we have, one of them being the west of Scotland/Atlantic. Issued seperately, but put together, gives the picture that we have oil for the next 100 years (now where did I read that!).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

    • Jamie: Fuel prices probably will rocket (though remember much of the cost of filling up your tank is down to fuel duty not the wholesale price of oil). However, you can hardly blame the Scottish Government for global oil prices. Isn’t it better be in a country which has strong O&G reserves at a time or rising oil prices than in a country which does not?

      On your second point, you are correct in that there is evidence of significant new oil fields West of Shetland and there may indeed be good for the next 100 years. If I’m thinking of the same article (it wasn’t a SNP press release) then the author also pointed to the large onshore potential within Scotland, Certainly, Scotland’s oil shales were abandoned because of competition from “conventional” oil rather than exhaustion though I’ve no idea as to what the reserve status these unconventional oil sources is for Scotland.

      Oil prices can go up as well as down but the pressures on price at present are almost entirely up.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Aye Jaimie, it’s no’ often yer right and this isn’t one of those times (again)

      By the way, as well as oil going up in price, do you realise that pens, paper and envelopes wil be remaining stationary?

      You’ll need to stop looking at the world through butcher’s apron coloured glasses son

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Do you see the Catch22 situation?

    High oil prices may secure tax revenue for an Independent Scotland, but the direct impact of them will be high fuel prices. And high oil prices are the thing that consumers can see affecting their pocket the most.

    If we go with the assumption that the SNP are right and, and oil prices will go up, it will be a VERY difficult sell to the electorate that the direct consequence is that fuel prices will rocket.

    To date, I’ve seen no commitment or prediction from the SNP that ANY tax will go down in an Independent Scotland, certainly not fuel duty.

    To quote the SNP “People are fed up being hammered by high prices at the pump, particularly in rural areas, and scrutiny of the sector is long overdue.”

    They never said a truer thing.

    Is it fair then to infer that an Independent, oil rich Scotland would also have high fuel prices to match?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

    • Is it fair then to infer that an Independent, oil rich Scotland would also have high fuel prices to match?

      No, I don’t think it is fair, or even logical; in fact, I’m afraid your statement makes little sense to me. The oil price is a global phenomenon and is not likely to be affected by Scotland’s consitutional status. Why would an independent Scotland have higher fuel prices than a devolved Scotland?

      Fuel prices are a combination of oil price and duty levied. Of course no-one can predict whether a future Scottish government would put fuel duty up, but then no-one can predict what a future Westminster government will do in this respect either.

      Saying that Scotland’s coming oil boom means high fuel prices in an independent Scotland but not under the status quo simply makes no sense on any level that I can grasp – or have I missed something?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Seems a fairly silly argument to me. The oil prices will go up. In the Union, Scotland will benefit not a jot as Westminster will use the revenue to finance something else for the south east. Independent, we will be able to use the revenue in Scotland. So either we pay the price and get nothing back, or we take control.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Jammie – all fuel duty rises so far, are the responsibility of westminster – not holyrood.

      remember like oil prices, umbrellas and escalators can go up as well as down – try applying that notion to your increasingly daft assertions

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. Okay folks, I think you’ve missed my point. I was merely hypothesising trying to use both views on oil revenues to a show why there is a bit of a sticking point. I did expect that the minute I raised the prospect of fuel prioces rising i’d get shot down, just like last time. Touchy subject maybe? LIke ‘will taxes rise under Indpendence?’.

    I’ll try again.

    The OBR predicts that oil revenues will decrease between now and 2018, giving various reasons, not least the volatile market, particularly given the impact of more easily extractable shale gas and the likes, which will potentially keep oil prices low/lower.

    With me so far? Let’s call that the ‘negative’ view, since the Nationalists love a bit of negativity.

    So the response from the SNP was that 3 days later (after ‘cooking the books’! (joke), they published a report stating the oil revenues will go UP, we are on the cusp of an oil boom, and don’t forget, Mr Salmond could not resist the little snippet about OPEC predicting oil could reach as much as $150 (yes, I know, a clever bit of wordsmithing where he never actually said it, he conveniently quoted someone else so that no-one can hold him personally to it).

    Let’s call this the positive view. Oil prices will go UP, given some secureity to the Nationalists that we will not be broke.

    My point is, that if we believe the Nationalists and take everything they say at face value, fuel prices will rocket – how can they do otherwise? Or – show me evidence that they wouldn’t? Norway, the country the Nationalists use as a role model have the highest fuel prices in Europe (along with Turkey strangely enough!) Currently 2euros a litre for diesel and this is a small, oil rich Independent nation.

    I’m not saying the SNP will raise fuel duty – oil price rises will be enough to do the damage. But can you tell me hand on heart you believe an SNP government, or any government for that matter will DROP fuel duty? You’d think that by being oil rich, we could have cheap fuel, and yet that is mentioned nowhere in the Nationalist propaganda.

    Now as I said, I’m only using the opposing views on oil prices, not neccesarily the Yes/No opposition – I absolutely accept that even if we vote NO and oil prices go up, then fuel will go up. It’s just that the SNP are so very confident they will rise, I’m trying to say that if they are right, there is a very negative, and direct consequence that will affect virtually everyone in Scotland and hit them hard.

    It’s not an argument – it’s just some thoughts about what might happen. :)

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    • The OBR have never got any prediction right yet – you might a swell cast runes and tak ewhat they say as being correct

      Norway as well as being highly taxed, also has high wages to match – funnily enough!

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    • “LIke ‘will taxes rise under Indpendence?’”

      Aye, like the taxes hikes we were all warned about if we voted for devolution that never happened.

      It’s simpe. See below

      Price of oil = price of oil regardless of where you are in the world.

      Price of oil + duty varies all over the world.

      The REAL difference is that with independence we have control over the duty. If the government raise it and we don’t like it, we boot them out of office.

      Unfortunately, no matter who we vote for in Westminster elections we can’t boot them out because England votes differently.

      Following?

      In short – WE have control of the oil AND the duty in Scotland.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. It’s not a bad thing I’ll give you that. But without any type of assurances that they would lower (i.e. do something different to Westminster), it’s hardly a selling point.

    And as I said, I can’t see the SNP or any party in power giving any such comitment. If the SNP thought we would have lower fuel prices I’m sure they would have said so. Unless of course they are keeping that carrot for much nearer the referendum :)

    Interestingly, the Tories are the ones who have been postponing duty rises recently.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • It would be a juicy, tempting carrot for sure. I imagine the average Norwegian must occasionally look askance at the high pump prices when comparing them with the cost in other oil-rich countries.

      But look at the spectacular Norwegian road, tunnel and ferry network compared to our goat tracks through Argyll and across the Highlands . . . it’s all about how a country chooses to prioritise things, and personally I would prefer it if those priorities were decided in Scotland rather than the SE of England.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      • Which government made the decision to build the new Forth Road Bridge? Or build the M74 link? Or provide wholly unsuitable ferries for the Dunoon route? Or cancel the Glasgow Airport Rail link? Or start a feasibility on a high speed rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

        It wasn’t Westminster, that’s for sure.

        Even today a SCOTTISH government is putting the needs of (already well served) city dwellers above the folks in the country – no plans at all to upgrade the ‘goat tracks’.

        The most ambitious plan we have seen from a Scottish Government to improve the’goat tracks’ is a 200m stretch of road at Pulpit Rock – pathetic.

        If this is an example of decisions for Scotland being made in Scotland, I don’t think much of them.

        And let’s not go into the high taxes to fund all these dreams.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

        • What high taxes – any evidence to support that?

          In fact any evidence to support any of your rather lame assertions

          You don’t even know ( no one does) who will govern Scotland after independence, so basing your datft notions on it being the SNP is rather foolish, to say the least

          I wouldn’t even start, if I were you, to go down the GARL route as an example, it was a stupid idea to use that plan in teh first place

          Meanwhile I notice you forgot to mention (I suppose because it wasn’t an SNP idea in teh first place (liek the M74 extension too mind you) the Embra trams- a completely unionist white elephant, supported by teh LIEBOOR, LIE-DUMBS & Tories but resisted by the SNP, who as they were in a minority government at the time, couldn’t win

          The SNP wanted to spend the tram money on upgrading the A9 but your unionis hereoes didn’t

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          • Denmark and Norway have a higher standard of living than us. Do they pay more or less tax then us? The Yes men and women always compare Norway when talking about life under Indy.

            Forget the parties sam – the point I was making was in response to webcraft talking about decisions being made in the SE – these ones, including the failures and disasters were Scottish – Independence wouldn’t have made a difference arguably.

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    • Jammie,
      You do realise that after independence and our first general election, teh SNP may not be the new elected government?

      Are you currently in teh process of asking for exact plans of all parties interested in forming a government at westminster in 2016 for fuel duty
      If not, why not?

      If so, can you provide their answers for us all to see

      You do realise that any government of whatever colour would be mad to say such a thing, as duty rises or reductions can be affected by things beyond even unionist control

      Or are you gullible enough to believe, that if Scotland votes no, then everything will carry on as before, you know like , the westminster parties shafting everyone, not just Scotland to ensure that the South-EAst stays very comfortable?

      Never mind jammie though, as no doubt they’ll be paying attention to your “unashamedly British” attitude in taking what ever they throw at you with a cheery smile and a wave of te butcher’s apron

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      • Right on cue sam – thank you.

        I expected nothing more or less than to completely dodge the question by passing over responsibility. If the SNP can@t give us answers, who can?

        Lovely.

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        • EH?

          How can they answer on behalf of, what may be another governing party?

          Has any party projected accurately what will happen after the 2016 rUK election no matter who is in power?

          Westminster can’t even giv eteh current Scottish Government accurate figures on anything whatsoever – including all taxes raised in Scotland.

          No doubt jammie, wae yer “unashamedly britiush” fixation can answer for westminster on everything – jeezo son, you need to catch a grip on reality

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  8. …”personally I would prefer it if those priorities were decided in Scotland rather than the SE of England”
    With this present Scottish Government, personally I would prefer it if those priorities were decided for the whole of Scotland and not just the East Coast.

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  9. Is there no end to the talents of Jamie Black? An answer for everything on any subject on For Argyll.

    On the news tonight, President Obama was telling us that Iran could have nuclear weapons “within a year”. This will rank alongside the weapons of mass destruction which Saddam Hussein didn’t have and be used as a pretext to up the propaganda war and pave the way for an invasion with, of course, the wee UK being used to give the US Army the appearance of a Coalition.

    However, to the matter of oil prices. Once this invasion takes place, what will happen to the world’s oil supply? Iran will be no walkover as Iraq was. The Persian Gulf will be closed and the price of crude oil will rocket. Who will make the money from that? The oil producing countries which are not in a war zone, Scotland being one of the main ones as it is near the consumer market. This is one of the reasons why the Westminster Government is so determined to hang on to Scotland. Possibly not even for the monetary value, but for the control they would have over the oil market.

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    • “Is there no start to the talents of Jammie Black?” – there fixed that for you

      He’s “unashamedly british” don’t ya know……………

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  10. Sorry to interupt your slanging match lads and return this thread to the capping of test wells in the 1980s.
    The capping may have nothing to do with submarines.
    Following WWI and WWII thousands of tons of unwanted munitions were dumped in the Firth of Clyde by the governments of the times. Ostensibly they were to be dumped in Beaufort’s Dyke, a deep trench in the seabed. However, the reality was that much of it was tipped over the side anywhere. (see Beaufort’s Dyke page on http://www.secretscotland.org.uk)
    Proof of this indiscriminent dumping came when the gas interconnector was laid from Scotland to Ireland. Munitions started to be washed up on shores as far away as Dunoon. This continued for some years until the seabed settled down again.
    Maybe the goverment of the 1980s felt that producing oil in the middle of a huge explosives dump was a tad dangerous?

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    • A gas pipeline was laid between Bute and Gourock ( well slightly west of Lunderston Bay) in the 1980s/1990s with no adverse circumstances

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      • Why mark that down, it’s perfectly true, you can see the signposts at both beaches were it enters and comes out of the water

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      • The pipeline you refer to runs to Dunoon, then down to Ardyne and thence to Bute. It is a long way from the dumping areas I referred to.

        The pipeline or maybe it was a cable was laid in the late 1990s as far as I recall. It runs from the SW of Scotland to somewhere in Ireland. It was laid in an underwater trench.

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        • The North Sea has its fair share of unexploded munitions, so that’s not really a reason on its own. The machinery that dug the trench for the gas line to Ulster didn’t get blown up, so whatever’s down there can’t be that volatile; as everywhere else, if something’s discovered too close to a rig or subsea installation then it gets dealt with by either the EOD teams or a contractor.

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        • OOPS – wee geographical mistook there – it comes ashore on the north bank of the firth at @between dunoon and Innellan – you can actually follow the puipeline “trail” back towards Bridge of Weir and beyond, as it came straight over the moors and hills

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  11. Sam, the more you post your repetitively-boring, unfunny childish name-calling nonsense about “LIEBOOR, LIE-DUMBS & Tories”:
    The more you post offensive comments like “and a wave of the butcher’s apron” (a term used by murdering IRA nationalist-terrorists to describe the Union Flag), and,
    The more you try to mock someone for being proud to be “unashamedly British”…

    The much more I’m glad I have seem to have little in common with you – or your narrow, venomous, twisted, nationalist ideology

    Have a nice evening :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Oh joy………
      It’s not my fault that you don’t have a sense of humour. I’m not a ” nationalist” either, especially not a Brit nationalist or any other type for that matter
      The union flag is well known as the butchers apron across the world, not just by those who you describe so dispassionately
      I’m sure the Tasmanians wiped out by the Brits, or even the Chagos Islanders kicked out of their homeland so those ” unashamedly British” types could make the yanks happy and let them use it as an airbase and a rendition site for kidnapped oops sorry people subjected to rendition can be tortured in secret will share your sentiment about the good old union flag
      But then again being ” unashamedly british” means you have no shame about whatever Britain does, especially to johnnycake foreigner

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. So, if you support an independent Sotland you are a nationalist?
    Patrick Harvie leader of the Scottish Greens tells us he isn’t yet is a prominent and vociferous supporter of.
    I on the whole despair at being Scottish, embarrassed at our tolerance, even willingness to accept our lot as a country. Our lot woefully lacking in aspiration and desire to better if not match the living conditions of similar sized countries with less resources than Scotland yet with far more successful economies.
    I support the Scottish NATIONAL Party not because as the name suggests I am a nationalist but because they are the only party that at least gives the citizens of Scotland the opportunity to have a say in whether she prospers instead of hanging onto the coattails of poor British decision makers with a one way ticket to a continuing failing economy.

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  13. The oil & gas is there – take a look at this UK government oil map July 2013 (address below) – apart from the large blue & purple unlicensed areas – and believe from industry insiders that they will not be granted any licenses before the referendum – you will also notice 2 large gas condensate fields already marked – where there is gas condensate there is more oil & gas! https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210689/Infrast_Off.pdf

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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