#IndyRef: “the debate on both sides has been inward looking, myopic and disconnected “

I’m cribbing this post from a friend Chris Yapp on LinkedIn. It seems to me to contain most of the reasonable things that need to be said from a progressive British centric point of view and I think deserves a wider audience before the Scottish people make their historic decision today…

The Vision Thing

“The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” Sheikh Yamani

I have used the former Saudi Oil Minister’s words in many speeches and workshops over the years to understand the nature of innovation and futures thinking.

It has popped into my mind on numerous occasions during the Scottish referendum, as debates over the value and scale of oil reserves have been raised.

There will still be an oil industry when my grandchildren are in their dotage, I’m sure, but how large and important is hard to say.

Tomorrow, we will know the outcome of that referendum and hopefully the healing can begin regardless of the outcome. It will be hard. The energy, passion and engagement has been electrifying. What, however does it say about the state of political discourse in the UK?

Until the closing weeks of the campaign, it has been a NO side looking at risk and detail against a YES side selling big picture and aspiration. A narrative of Scotland the brave would always be more energising than Scotland the broke, even if the big picture turns out to be flawed.

For me, the worrying aspect is that much of the debate on both sides has been inward looking, myopic and disconnected from the real world.

Even last week people were complaining that they didn’t have good information to make up their minds. The case of oil, for me, illustrates what needs to happen, starting Friday regardless of the outcome.

In the last 3 months, in the face of the most severe geo-political problems in a generation, the price of Brent crude has fallen 15%.

Yet the Yes campaign want to argue that in 20 years times, Scotland will be awash with oil money. They argue that prices will go up and total value of reserves are much higher than currently given. This is where Yamani’s words echo for me.

The “Peak Oil” narratives of the 80s and 90s are largely discredited. The major oil producers are using their wealth to invest for a post oil world. Not because they are running out of oil (some are), but because innovations are maturing that will topple the oil economy. The assumption that oil will get scarce and therefore higher priced is being replaced by a current glut and decline in demand. That may be temporary, who knows, but change is happening.

The current price declines suggest to me that the link between oil and economic growth is slowly being broken, globally.

In the last two years, I have met people in the “Smart Cities” movement who see 2025-35 that they want their cities to be reducing their oil dependency. Climate change is a major driver, but also Public Health. The concerns over diesel nano-particulates and health are well established.

In transport, I have met people working on hybrid engines and fuel cells. Some have suggested that by 2030, 400-1000mpg will be feasible for a hybrid engines. Commodification of Fuel Cells at around the same time scale will make them economic for mass production.

In the shorter term, the potential for solar panels on the roofs of vehicles could see renewables taking a small part in terrestrial transport.

The fact that there are competing approaches suggest that even if one is slower than its advocates expect, that one candidate is likely to mature and come to market.

The 2030s may be the decade in which terrestrial transport moves to a post-oil economy.

So, can you name one country, other than Scotland, that sees advantage in being more oil dependent in 2030 than now? I’m struggling, be it producer or consumer, to find one.

Forecasting oil prices is notoriously difficult and appears to be becoming harder. The problem is that if prices rise, the time when terrestrial transport tips to post-oil could be brought forward.

The problem is that much of the North Sea reserves will require investment in innovation which will be expensive and need high prices to be viable.

Yet the NO campaign has joined in a narrow argument suggesting that assuming prices are going to grow and hoping for large reserves is risky. No wonder people don’t feel informed.

The debate has felt akin to a modern version of a debate about how many Angels can dance on a barrel of oil in 20 years’ time.

Democratic societies need leaders and leadership. The debate is largely technocratic and insular. Where’s the Vision?

A narrative that Scotland would use its current oil wealth to build on its renewables advantages to build new industries and jobs for the post oil world is available to either side, but none have expressed it clearly and articulately.

In the end, it feels like both sides are arguing: “trust me, we can manage decline better than the other guy!”

The debate on devo-max in England, suffers from the same managerial focus with a dearth of leadership. The centre is prepared to discuss what powers it is prepared to devolve. How gracious of the centre! It is about better administration to support “guided localism” to make the centre’s job easier.

Regardless of the result, what is needed is a coherent outward looking vision of the 21 century state, economy and society. That may be for one or 2 countries. We will soon know.

We didn’t stop wearing clogs because we ran out of wood.

Tom Peters recipe for failure is worth remembering. How to fail? System without passion or passion without system.

Let the healing begin. Building that vision, as in the case of South Africa, is a good starting point for Friday. Negotiating without a central vision and purpose lets the technocrats win.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Fast and funny, smart and nimble,
    is his mind, the poet thinks,
    making what is complex simple,
    mixing metaphors like drinks,
    till becoming quite inebriate,
    his speech begins to slur,
    manic as a tom-cat mated,
    his poems they fail to purr,
    thoughts like lemming herds stampeded,
    fearlessly they dash,
    unrestrained by lousy software,
    on pixeled screens they crash,
    as slow as death and sadly humbled,
    like cats that have been fixed,
    static as statistics stumbled,
    in metaphors he’s mixed.

  • terence patrick hewett

    But you are right Mick: it has been all of those things: but is not that what yr website is for? To finally reconcile all of us auld un-reconstructed terrible violent persons?

  • terence patrick hewett

    But finally as a Cockney and a somewhat inberiated Catholic this is my take on life:

    It was Christmas Day in the workhouse
    The snow white walls were black
    Along came the Workhouse Master
    With his suit cut out of a sack.

    In came the Christmas pudding
    When a voice that shattered glass
    Said: “We don’t want your Christmas pudding
    You can stick it with the rest of the unwanted presents”

    The workhouse master then arose
    And prepared to carve the duck
    He said: “Who wants the parson’s nose?”
    And the prisoners shouted: “You have it yourself sir.”

    The vicar brought his bible
    And read out little bits
    Said one old crone at the back of the hall
    “This man gets on very well with everybody”

    The workhouse mistress then began
    To hand out Christmas parcels
    The paupers tore the wrappers off
    And began to wipe their eyes; which were full of tears.

    The master rose to make a speech
    But just before he started
    The mistress, who was fifteen stone,
    Gave three loud cheers and nearly choked herself

    And all the paupers then began
    To pull their Christmas crackers
    One pauper held his too low down
    And blew off both his paper hat; and the man’s next to him.

    A steaming bowl of white bread sauce
    Was handed round to some
    An aged gourmet called aloud
    “This bread sauce tastes like it was made by a continental chef”

    Mince pie with custard was the next
    And each received a bit
    One pauper said: “This mince pie’s nice
    But the custard tastes like the bread sauce we had in the last verse!”

    The mistress dishing out the food
    Dropped custard down her front
    She cried: “Aren’t I a silly girl?”
    And the inmates answered: “You’re a perfect picture as
    always Ma’am!”

    “This pudding,” said the master
    “Is solid, hard and thick
    “How am I going to cut it?”
    And a man cried: “Use your penknife sir; the one with the pearl handle”

    The mistress asked the vicar
    To entertain his flock
    He said: “What would you like to see?”
    And they cried: “Let’s see your conjuring tricks, they’re always worth watching”.

    “Your reverence may I be excused?”
    Said one benign old chap
    “I don’t like conjuring tricks
    “I’d sooner have a carol or two around the fire”

    So then they all began to sing
    Which shook the workhouse walls.
    “Merry Christmas!” cried the Master
    And the inmates shouted: “Best of luck to you as well sir!”

  • Bryan Magee

    One lesson, in my opinion, is that Unionists should not put too much faith in opinion polls re the Union. They changed so much in Scotland in a couple of weeks, because of a ground campaign by nationalists, one that could equally well happen in NI.

  • Cal Murray

    “In the last 3 months, in the face of the most severe geo-political
    problems in a generation, the price of Brent crude has fallen 15%.”

    Whoops he forgot to mention that the price of oil has doubled in the past 10 years (bit more accurate time period than 3 months) a large part of those 10 years where when the world was going through the worst global recession ever experienced, also everything he mentioned that will replace oil have existed during this time frame and to my ks on knowledge there have been no significant developments.

    With regards to detail, any chance you can enlighten me on the details of Devo Max the mainstay of the ‘NO’ argument, it just seems very vague…

  • mickfealty

    Nope. 😉 For that you’ll need a fully qualified therapist! 😉

  • mickfealty

    Here it is…

    The debate on devo-max in England, suffers from the same managerial focus with a dearth of leadership. The centre is prepared to discuss what powers it is prepared to devolve. How gracious of the centre! It is about better administration to support “guided localism” to make the centre’s job easier.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Apartheid South Africa was based on the Group Areas Act. Now. Considering that I as a professional engineer lived there for 24 years and met Walter Sisulu (we talked about robotics of all things). Met and received hospitality from the children and grand-children of those that suffered in the British concentration camps.

    Given this: and when Alex Salmond distorts history for political ends (which is not unknown) but it is still dangerous: history should be confronted as Germany has confronted their history to their eternal credit. The transformation of Scotland from
    enthusiastic imperator and West-Indian slave-master to colonial victim is the stuff of deep comedy: an illusion worthy of that great Anglo-Welsh entertainer Tommy Cooper.

    Salmond has compared Scotland with the struggles for freedom of South Africa and and Ireland: in this he trivialises the terrible human tragedy involved in those historic struggles. Is he ignorant or simply a cynic?

  • Olivia Anderson

    “A narrative that Scotland would use its current oil wealth to build on its renewables advantages to build new industries and jobs for the post oil world is available to either side, but none have expressed it clearly and articulately”

    The ‘Yes’ Scottish Greens have clearly and eloquently articulated just that. Clearly it is not in the interests of the ‘No’ campaign to discuss this fantastic opportunity.

    Scotland has 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resources, approx 25% of Europe’s tidal potential and 10% of its wave potential. There may be enough untapped hydropower potential to power a quarter of Scotland’s homes.

    ‘Myopic’ media
    I am very saddened that the UK media has generally blatantly supported the ‘Better together’ narrative. The UK is undoubtedly ‘better’ with Scotland but Scotland is not better off as part of the UK. It has immense potential to thrive and progress as an independent country which is ‘greener’ and more socially just than under the current arrangements. But alas…..

  • kensei

    Yeah, he didn’t really quote short term fluctuations in prices did he? Unless you believe the populations of India, China and South America don’t want to live like Westerners, you can’t seriously argue Oil isn’t going up.

    Also post oil, in 20 years? Ignoring that oil is used for a lot more than fuel, maybe if America didn’t have large vested interests fighting against the idea.

  • Reader

    Um, yes. Send Martina Anderson round to change our minds. That might work.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Ah well: Father McEnroe is good enough for me: mad as a bag of spanners.

  • Chris Yapp

    Olivia,, I am aware of the greens position which is both coherent and rational. Both sides failed to explain it. I heard John Swinney commiting oil money to the pension deficit, not to the productive economy.

  • Chris Yapp

    I’ve spoken to Chinese officials working on Smart Cities that don’t want to go down the oil economy route for pollution reasons.
    Re Americans, they are on both sides. The Tesla car is premium but zero emissions. The technology will mainstream around 2025-30.
    there are also plans for electric cars in both India and Brazil.