North Sea oil

12 – Scotland discovers North Sea oil

December 1969

THE black gold from the North Sea changed the face of industry in Scotland.

It transformed Grampian into our very own version of Texas.

Scientists had known for decades it was likely there was crude oil and gas under the sea between the UK and continental Europe.

But they didn’t know how much was there, nor whether it would ever be economically viable to get it out.

Then the Norwegians found significant deposits in the Ekofisk field, within their waters, in mid-1969.

By the end of the year, huge discoveries were made in the UK’s Brent, Montrose, Forties and Bravo fields.

We had become an oil country and things would never be quite the same again.

More and more deposits were found. More and more rigs had to be constructed and thousands of people headed north for work.

The Queen launches the flow of oil from the Forties Field in the North Sea to BP's Grangemouth refinery 237 miles away.
The Queen launches the flow of oil from the Forties Field in the North Sea to BP’s Grangemouth refinery 237 miles away (PA ARCHIVE)

Aberdeen saw the biggest change.

Until the early ’70s the Granite City’s main industries had been fishing, paper milling and shipbuilding.

It was a slightly remote, reserved and far quieter place than it is now.

Oil transformed it into a boomtown.

When the price of crude quadrupled, almost overnight with the Yom Kippur war of 1973, it became yet more important.

There was big money to be spent on infrastucture and big money to be made.

Nowadays, the number of people employed in the energy industries in Aberdeen dwarfs those in the mills. And supply vessels and tugs vastly outnumber fishing boats in the harbour.

Even with the downturn that recent price falls have caused, the North East is still enjoying the affluence and influence that go with oil.

The number of jobs created by the energy industry in and around the Granite City has been estimated at half a million.

Salaries are around £12,000 higher than the UK average, unemployment is just 2% and the roads are crowded with high-spec Audis and top-of-the-range Mercedes.

Aye, oil has been good for the fowk that spik the Doric.

It was a gradual process, but a lot of Scotland’s focus swung north as the years went on.

The SNP used the slogan during the 1970s
The SNP used the slogan during the 1970s

The traditional heavy industries in the central belt were in decline in the 1970s, so the rise of another type of work that would offer well-paid jobs and opportunities to the hard-working and ambitious was very welcome.

And the Scottish people saw what was happening. It affected their lives and also how they thought about themselves.

Oil gave Scotland confidence.

Without North Sea oil, you could reasonably argue, the SNP might have remained on the fringes of UK politics.

There might not have been referendums in 1979, 1997 and 2014. There might have been no devolution bill, no Scottish Parliament, no landslide in this year’s General Election.
In the campaign for the 1974 General Election, signs started appearing in the windows of ordinary folk that read: “It’s Scotland’s Oil”.

That idea still resonates with many. That poster contained what was possibly the most successful slogan in Scottish political history.