Save St Fitticks – defeat the oilogarchy

This post is a report of the Scot.E3 public meeting held on 24th October 2022. It includes videos from the meeting and links to resources and further information about the St Fitticks Campaign. Please share widely.

The meeting began with a contribution from Ishbel Shand from the Save St Fitticks Campaign

You can read a written version of Ishbel’s contribution here

Pete Cannell followed up with a short contribution on the North Sea oil and gas industry

The two speakers were followed by a wide ranging discussion which is summarised in the following account:

At the ScotE3 public meeting on 24th October “St.Fittick’s Park – Defeat the Oilogarchy” Ishbel Shand, on behalf of the Save St.Fittick’s Park campaign in Aberdeen, reminded us that nearly a century ago Antonio Gramsci, writing from a fascist prison cell, said “The old world is dying, the new is struggling to be born. We live in a time of monsters.”  You can watch the whole of Ishbel’s speech about the history and current significance of St.Fittick’s Park on the YouTube link above. It’s a compelling story not to be missed.

Pete Cannell spoke next, on behalf of ScotE3. He emphasised in particular the catastrophic nature of the North Sea Transition Deal, agreed in March last year and flouted as the first agreement “between the government of a G7 country and its oil and gas production community”. Almost unbelievably this Deal has been signed up to by the Scottish Government and by the Unions which represent the oil and gas workers. More oil and gas, nuclear, and hydrogen for heating. This is a disaster for the climate – particularly in terms of investment. It’s what underpins the Cost of Living Crisis because energy prices would inevitably remain high – much higher than would be the case with renewable sources of energy. It would also be a disaster for jobs – preserving the status quo for jobs is the worst-case scenario, defying any chance of a just transition. You can watch Pete’s presentation on the second YouTube link.

We had hoped for a speaker from Climate Camp, who sited their annual camp this year in St.Fittick’s Park and illegally occupied the site of the old fishing and boat-building village of Torry, destroyed to make way for oil and gas industrialisation. Unfortunately no-one from Climate Campaign was available for this meeting, but their name was on the lips of many participants as a model of how to respect local communities rather than impose on them.

The bulk of the meeting was given to general discussion. Many good points were made, including:

  • The oil and gas industry has never brought anything positive to the Torry community
  • There is a parallel between the threatened industrialisation of St.Fittick’s with the Bo’ness road in Grangemouth, which physically divides the local community and threatens the health of that community with air pollution from traffic congestion.
  • There is also a parallel with the Buckie community’s fight to save the Slochy Wloods
  • The potential power of communities is huge when they come together to fight – for example the success last year, at enormous personal costs, of the Ujaama indigenous communities in securing land rights in Tanznia.
  • There is a fundamental democratic deficit which in general communities face.
  • There’s not just one unaccountable Goliath faced by the David of the Torry community but four –  One North East, oil tycoon Ian Wood’s company which will control the development of an “Energy Transition Zone”; Aberdeen Harbour; Ironside Farrar, the environmental consultants tasked with drawing up a “master plan”; and Aberdeen City Council and its Local Development Plan.
  • Artists/musicians recently performed 45 minutes of songs and poetry at the new Arts Centre in Banchory
  • Films, short and long, have been made about St. Fittick’s.
  • University students are giving St. Fittick’s magnificent support
  • Those of us who don’t live in Aberdeen need to extend the Local actions of the Torry Community to National actions and solidarity across Scotland, through spreading the word far and wide about the threat to St. Fittick’s.
  • We all need too to take opportunities to spread the St. Fittick’s story internationally.
  • There’s a need for more radical change than just fighting for “renewables” – a term which can conceal negative elements – for example the jackets for off-shore turbines are plastic and the blades are steel.
  • The Cost of Living Crisis is fundamental in that it has the potential to mobilize nearly everyone.
  • The Scotland-wide COP 27 mobilisation is at 12noon on Saturday 12th November in Edinburgh. People from Aberdeen wanting to join this rally were encouraged to accept hospitality from those members of ScotE3 based in Edinburgh.

Yes, this is a time of monsters, but it’s also a time of jewels. St. Fittick’s Park itself is a jewel, as is the current response of the campaign to the threat of industrialising the Park. 

The chair ended the meeting with this quote from Ishbel, which emphasises the often-neglected but fundamental significance of the Nature Crisis in all our current struggles:

We can choose to continue with the old dying world of exploitation of people and nature for short-term financial gain. Or we can choose to repair and nurture our damaged environment and learn to live within the constraints that nature imposes.  

Links for further reading/information:      

Some background information on ETZ – click here

A trailer for a film by Martina Camatta

Some films by Robert Aitken can be accessed via this link

The film about Old Torry is particularly moving.  The Aberdeen Social Centre have a complete collection of issues of the “Aberdeen People’s Press” from the period..  One Old Torry resident, with a compulsory purchase order on her home, laments that the same Council that wouldn’t allow her to put in new windows because of the historic importance of her house are now going to bull-doze it, because Shell want the land.

A link to Mike Downham’s post on St Fitticks on this site

Transition for North Sea Oil and Gas workers

Scot.E3 participated in the conference that the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union group held a conference on the 8th October 2022. This is an edited version of the contribution that Pete Cannell (from Scot.E3) made to the discussion at a session on transition for workers in carbon intensive industries.

Oil industry infrastructure at Montrose Harbour – image by Pete Cannell CC0 Public Domain

On Saturday 8th October, in response to questions about the Truss government’s plans to expedite the development of new oil and gas fields in the British sector of the North Sea, the UK’s new climate minister announced that increasing local production of oil and gas would be good for the environment.  The crudest kind of greenwashing, but nothing new.  Since the publication of the North Sea Transition deal in 2021 the aim has been to make the North Sea a net zero oil and gas basin.  An aim that depends on effective and total implementation of carbon capture and assumes, what even its advocates don’t believe, that carbon capture and storage can be 100% effective.

In response to a survey conducted by Platform in 2020 workers on the North Sea had a much more realistic view of the industry.  Very few were aware of the debates around Just Transition, but a big majority would like to move into new employment.  However, they identified serious barriers to moving into areas where their skills could be used and a lack of confidence that there are, or will be, jobs in renewables that they could move to.  

North Sea Oil and Gas has long been a trailblazer for many of the employment practices that characterise modern neoliberal economies.  In doing so the oil and gas companies have single-mindedly aimed at atomising the offshore workforce by forcing many workers to operate as contractors rather than employees, offering short-term contracts, blacklisting and driving down wages and conditions.  At the same time the companies have been happy to ride the waves of a highly volatile and highly profitable ‘market’, proclaimed the market price as sacrosanct and resisted regulation.  In the UK they’ve cashed in on a regime of relatively low taxation and high levels of state subsidy.  In an important report on the North Sea that was published on this website, tax expert Jean Carlos Boue shows that subsidies to oil and gas companies have exceeded what they paid in tax by £250 billion.  This bonanza will be hugely enhanced by the current government’s decision to allow them to continue to rake in megaprofits from the high market price of gas – a price that bears no relationship to the costs of production.

So Truss’s response to the cost of living crisis has been to double down on the so called energy security plan that the Tories published on the 6th April.  A plan that is shaped by, and completely aligned to the North Sea Transition deal.  More oil and gas, nuclear and hydrogen for heating.  This emphasis – particularly in terms of investment – in nuclear, hydrogen, oil, and gas – is a disaster for the climate.   It implies very high costs for energy – much higher than would be the case with renewables.   It’s also a disaster for jobs – preserving the status quo is the worst-case scenario.  Back in 2018 the Sea Change report showed that the more investment is shifted to renewables and oil and gas production is phased down the greater the number of jobs available in the energy supply sector.

But the North Sea Transition deal isn’t just a deal between the big oil and gas producers and the Westminster government – the Scottish government and the unions that organise offshore workers are also signed up to it.  There are welcome signs that the Scottish government would wish to pursue a different path, but it has yet to make a clean break.  The unions argue that they work with the oil industry to protect jobs – but the benefits from this partnership have all accrued to the industry not to the workers.  I’d argue that while energy policy and investment is guided by this agreement, and as long as unions are tied into this grotesque partnership, the ability of oil and gas workers to act in their own best interests will be severely constrained and there will be little chance that they will be convinced that a just transition is possible.  So, while we campaign to Stop Cambo, Rosebank, Jackdaw and all of the other new developments that are in the queue, we also need to highlight the rotten agreement that drives these developments, and campaign for the unions to end their partnership with fossil capital.  

This would be a bleak scenario were it not for the example being set as workers across multiple sectors are forced to protect themselves in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, by small groups of workers offshore taking unofficial action, and the continuing organisation of young people that time and again is taking the urgency of the need for transition back into their homes and communities. It’s a campaign that we can and must win.