If you’ve been isolated from all news for the last year or more, let me tell you the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry has been going through a rough patch. Very rough. Part of the response has been the negotiation of a ‘city region deal’ worth £250 million for Aberdeen and its surrounding areas. The UK and Scottish governments have each provided 50% of the funding. It mirrors an earlier deal reached for Glasgow and the Clyde Valley and will be reflected in further deals under negotiation in Scotland.
So far, so good.
Yesterday in the House of Commons SNP MP Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) criticised the deal on the basis that:
The Aberdeen city and shire deal submitted a bid for £2.9 billion of investment, but that ambition was not matched by the Tory Government, who stumped up only £125 million for the deal. Can the Minister understand why the people of Aberdeen city and shire feel disappointed and let down by this Tory Government? … This [UK] Government are not providing a 50:50 basis for this deal. In fact, the Scottish Government are contributing £379 million to it. Will the Minister and his Government respond to calls from the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities and stump up the additional £200 million that Aberdeen so clearly needs? (Hansard)
Ms Thewliss was decent enough to engage me in a brief but civilised exchange on Twitter when I criticised the Press and Journal report of her words. I was aware in general terms of what a city deal is but the exchange sent me off to check some of the detail of this one. You’ll need to concentrate on the recent chronology here.
The first point to bear in mind is that the deal has been under negotiation for some time and I am sure both governments would have known when it was heading for agreement.
On 21 January Nicola Sturgeon wrote to David Cameron. In the words of a Scottish government press release that day ‘First Minister urges confirmation of investment as matter of urgency.’ It was as if there were some significant doubt about anything happening. On the other hand she managed to add ‘I am prepared for the Scottish Government to fund the deal on a 50:50 basis.’ As had been the arrangement all along.
And in fact, exactly a week later on 28 January the UK government announced the deal, ‘Scotland’s second [which will] again see equal funding committed by the UK and Scottish governments.’
So, and I have some experience of these sorts of things in the North East, you would expect the Scottish government to march in step with this announcement and put out their own press release. Which they did but in these terms:
The Scottish Government will invest, over the same 5-10 year time span as the City Region deal, an additional £254 million in the North East’s infrastructure, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities Keith Brown announced today.
In the press release Keith Brown acknowledged the city region deal briefly although in grudging terms – ‘While I support the City Deal agreement …’
The extent to which all this money is genuinely new, the deal’s £250 million and the Scottish government’s £254 million, is a moot point. Politicians of all parties are past masters at repackaging and re-presenting existing budgets and commitments. But that of course is a different question.
What you will see, and of course it’s not the first time, is that the Scottish SNP government seems to be unwilling to work in a spirit of genuine harmony and co-operation with a UK government. So by 8 February, scarcely a week after an agreement ‘I support’ (Keith Brown), ‘the people of Aberdeen city and shire feel disappointed and let down by this Tory Government’ (Alison Thewliss). Well it’s news to me and unlike Ms Thewliss I live in Aberdeen and have for many years.
During my Twitter exchange with her someone else chipped in with the claim, and I quote verbatim, that:
uk has took 300 billion out and replaced it 125 million? Take your union jack specs off.
When I asked him for a source for what is at best a confusing conflation of two apparently completely different figures, Ms Thewliss sent me this link to a promotional web site for ‘Aberdeen city and shire’ which under the heading ‘Contribution to the UK economy’ states
Oil and gas extraction has provided the Exchequer with more than £300 billion (2012 money) in production tax over the past 45 years (2013 figure).
This, it is true, is a number that matches what my other correspondent claimed is what ‘uk has took out’ but the two things – a total UK tax take from across the UK continental shelf over 45 years (a fair proportion of which will have come Southern North Sea gas and much of which will have come back to Scotland) and a support package for one city region in 2016 – is scarcely comparing like with like. If part of modern day Scottish political discourse is ‘whataboutery’ there also seems to be more than a touch of ‘chalkandcheesery.’
Anyhow, to conclude. I could highlight the untruth in Ms Thewliss’s Commons statement, that ‘This [UK] Government are not providing a 50:50 basis for this deal.’ They are, and Scottish government statements accept that. I could also highlight the fact that economic development is a matter devolved to the Scottish parliament. But I revert to the words in the title of this post – ‘grievance-mongering.’ This is what sticks in the craw of so many people about the SNP, the curmudgeonly spirit with which they enter into every aspect of their relationship with the UK. They think it’s clever and of course it plays to both their single aim in life and the feelings of many of their followers. I think they will come to rue it, not in the forthcoming Holyrood election, but within a few years as they begin to suffer the fate of all parties who’ve been in power too long.