Leaders: Oil boost | Castlebrae

A North Sea oil rig in the Miller Oilfield. Picture: submitted
A North Sea oil rig in the Miller Oilfield. Picture: submitted
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A STRONG oil and gas sector in the North Sea is good news for Scottish jobs and good news for Scotland as a whole. Today’s impressive figures on new investment will play a significant role in efforts to build growth back into the Scottish economy.

One reason for such a strong performance is the UK government’s decision to ditch the punitive windfall tax proposed by the Treasury in 2011. That tax hike was firmly opposed by this newspaper at the time, and the Treasury’s subsequent U-turn was a most welcome development.

The encouragement this gave the oil and gas companies has led to a period of healthy investment in one of Scotland’s key industries, which is good news for jobs in energy-related sectors, with multiplier benefits for the wider economy. All this is most welcome.

It is hard to overstate the importance of oil and gas to the Scottish and British economy, with a supply chain worth £27 billion, much of it in engineering.

Of course, in the current political climate, today’s report will immediately become part of the debate over the financial credibility of an independent Scotland. The Yes campaign will trumpet this development as adding new credibility to its claims that an independent Scotland is more than capable of meeting its financial commitments, with many millions to spare.

It is certainly true that a massive increase in investment changes the calculation on the likely amount of revenue possible from oil exploration in years to come. On this basis, it can be argued with some confidence that today’s report shifts the goalposts in the independence debate, favouring the Yes camp. Accelerated investment suggests more oil than anticipated being produced, with commensurate increase in revenues. Vote Yes, the argument will go, to enjoy the proceeds of a new oil boom.

On the other hand, there are some sensible grounds for caution. Today’s report details the eye-watering cost of extracting all the oil that remains in the sector. For the potential revenue to become a reality, enormous sums of money must be invested over the next three decades. Can anyone be sure this money will be forthcoming? Can anyone be sure the economic climate will make it possible for the oil industry to commit to it? And what effect will new entrants into the energy industry – such as shale gas – have on future North Sea investment prospects?

Also, the fact remains that a country with so much of its economy based on oil revenues would be vulnerable to volatility in the oil markets. Increased investment and revenues also means increased reliance. That said, independence campaigners will doubtless argue that the problems of an oil-rich state are good problems to have. This argument has merit. Today’s news is an undoubted boost for the Yes campaign.

Close Castlebrae before more pupils fail

RARELY does a school inspection report read as badly as the one that criticises Castlebrae Community High, in the Craigmillar area of Edinburgh.

Not only has pupils’ exam performance deteriorated, the school “is not yet in a position to provide a clear picture of young people’s progress across all aspects of learning” in the first three years of secondary.

It is hard to see how this school can improve the life chances of the young people in its care without having a detailed idea of their abilities and needs, which does not appear to be the case.

The city education authorities tried to close Castlebrae, but changed their minds after a hard-fought campaign by parents and the wider Craigmillar community. It should be clear by now to all concerned that to artificially extend the life of this school – which has an occupancy rate of 28 per cent – was a mistake.

This is not, for one moment, to demean the passion of the parents who campaigned for its survival, nor the impressive loyalty shown by the local community in fighting to keep it going in the face of what must have seemed to many like faceless bureaucracy.

The truth is that the grounds for closing this school were sound, and the inspectors’ report is now unavoidable proof that the school is not performing well enough in the interests of the children. Last year, only one in 20 pupils at Castlebrae achieved one or more Highers; the figure across Scotland as a whole was almost 46 per cent.

These are among Scotland’s neediest children. For the sake of their future, and the future of the next generation of Craigmillar children, this school must close.