Gordon Wilson – 1974 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Gordon Wilson, the then SNP MP for Dundee East, in the House of Commons on 13 March 1974.

I am honoured to be here today to represent the constituency of Dundee, East. Dundee is Scotland’s third city. It is probably well known as such to all hon. Members, although there has been a distressing tendency on the part of the Scottish Office and other Departments in recent years to omit Dundee from some of the development maps. I hope that that will not occur in the future. Dundee was known traditionally for jute, jam and journalism. Today, it has a broad section of modern industry covering business machines, watches, printing, and tyres and is involved in the beginnings of oil development, in the Forties field and elsewhere.

I had intended to raise a matter of concern to my constituency arising from an industrial dispute affecting the Timex works, which might have led to the loss of 6,000 jobs. A tense situation had arisen. I am glad to say, however, that there are signs of conciliation abroad in the dispute, and I hope that the matter will right itself naturally. I was encouraged to learn from the Gracious Speech of the Government’s intentions to facilitate conciliation industrially. I hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will bear in mind the situation in Dundee.

As I remarked, Dundee has a sphere of the North Sea oil boom, but its participation so far has been small. Approximately 250 jobs have arisen from oil development. That is a small number out of those which have come from oil development around our coasts, and I want to dwell on that issue, albeit briefly, as it is a vast subject.

In Scotland, we are much concerned with what has been happening in connection with the oilfields, perhaps more so than elsewhere in the United Kingdom because that development is taking place on our doorstep, and initially we recognised the importance of oil to a degree that several years ago the Department of Trade and Industry did not.

Second, we are aware that in certain areas of Scotland there are bad effects from over-development. We are becoming aware of the need for conservation, to ensure that the oil industry is controlled so that we do not go from a boom to a bust situation. I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) when he said that natural gas had not in itself led to any permanent improvement in the industrial situation in his area. It is manifest—there are examples of this elsewhere—that the mere discovery of oil in itself can leave an area exploited and without potential once the first flush of ​ development has taken place. We must all look out for that danger.

In Scotland, and certainly in the Scottish National Party, we say that one must pay prime attention to the governmental revenues, which by 1980 are likely to be vast, to ensure that the returns from these capital resources—for oil is a capital resource—should be ploughed back into the industrial fabric of Scotland. We want to make sure that the industries we have are not those of the 19th century, or indeed, of the 20th century, but those that will expand in the 21st century.

I have no hesitation in raising the question of oil. The House will hear a great deal about it from the Scottish National Party, because what is happening now is one of the most important events to hit Scotland over the last 200–300 years. If I required any further excuse to raise it, I could mention that I have recently been appointed my party’s parliamentary spokesman on this topic.

What has worried me over the last few years is the state of unreadiness with which the United Kingdom has approached the development of the oilfields. It may be known to hon. Members that in 1965 the Norwegian Government began to prepare themselves for the onset of developments in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. They have taken in hand the development of Norwegian oil in ways which will be for the betterment of the Norwegian people.

We in Scotland have found ourselves defenceless against the commercial and political interests. I need mention only that it is United Kingdom policy to speed up the extraction of oil in order to help the balance of payments, whereas Scotland as an oil-exporting country, just as Norway, would be more inclined to go for conservation so that the benefits were spread over a period not just of 25 years but of 100 years and subsequent generations were not cheated out of their birthright.

If I have to say why Scotland needs primary benefit from development, I point to our lower wages and poorer housing. The opportunities in Scotland are poorer for children. One child in 10 in Scotland, according to a recent report, is bound to fail because of poor social and economic conditions. I believe the figure for the ​ south-east of England is one in 45. Unemployment too, has often been mentioned by Scots in this House.

I shall briefly mention ways in which the Government could attend to Scottish interests. The votes in Scotland show that people in our country are very much concerned with what has been happening in relation to oil and they will be looking critically at the Government’s efforts to see how they will be affected.

I suggest, first, to the Government that Scotland should expect to obtain the benefit of orders for equipment, services and use of labour in Scotland. They should be of Scottish origin except when Scotland cannot provide the goods or services concerned or where their provision from Scottish sources would not be reasonably competitive. This is something which the Norwegians have done, and I hope that the Government will follow their example. One may say that this is protectionism. But the United States requires that the supply vessels that operate off her shores should be manned by Americans and should also fly the American flag, whereas in the North Sea flags of convenience from Panama and elsewhere abound.

Secondly, I hope that the Government will try to entice into Scotland specialist manufacturing processes connected with offshore oil, because the offshore drilling industry is in its infancy and if we enter the industry now there will be tremendous export markets available. This will require Government inducements and Government pressure. The Government may well be helped by the fact that the Scottish votes in the General Election have shown that people are sensitive to the possibility of exploitation and the oil interests may, therefore, wish to take out an insurance policy and try to give greater benefits to those who are likely to be affected.

The third suggestion relates to the transfer of the petroleum department of the Department of Energy. There may be arguments for the transfer of the Department of Energy to Scotland, but the petroleum section should come immediately. The Hardman Report suggested that there should be a dispersal of Civil Service jobs from the centre. This may cause difficulties with existing posts. ​ But where a new Department is created there is a cast-iron case for dispersal of those jobs before they begin. I suggest that Scotland, which is now a centre of the offshore oil industry not only in the United Kingdom but elsewhere, should be considered as the site for that office.

The fourth recommendation is partly related to the Department of Energy. I could never understand, and many industrialists and members of trade unions in Scotland share my view, why the previous administration set up the Offshore Supplies Office in London, with a but-and-been office established in Glasgow set up several months later.

The opportunities which will stem from the oil industry will arise in Scotland, and it makes sound sense that the relevant Government Departments should be located where the action is. I therefore ask the Government to consider transferring the Offshore Supplies Office to Scotland. They are not committed by the decision of the previous Government.

I ask that the Government consider these suggestions I have raised in connection with the oil industry. In the Scottish National Party we have friendly feelings towards the people of England, and we want to make sure that, while we insist upon complete control of the oil industry, we take care of our friends in future years, but it must be borne in mind that the industrial pendulum—the power of the economy—has now swung irreversibly in the direction of Scotland through the discovery of oil. This should be some incentive to the Government to ensure that Scottish interests are not forgotten or ignored, as has happened so often before.