Part II of Andrew’s post on the North suggests shale gas extraction
Such dry considerations as outline yesterday only get us so far: cultural rebirth isn’t driven by spreadsheets. We must also appeal to the North’s great traditions, and almost by divine provenance we have been handed the answer on a plate: shale gas.
Much of Northern industrial culture was once thoroughly elemental: the great mines, coking works, the blazing fire of the steel furnaces. The exploitation of shale gas could help bring about a return to those lost traditions. Of course no one knows presently exactly how big an industry shale gas might be, but at the very least it could offer a symbolic link to the much of the North’s great past.
As luck would have it, many the Jurassic shale deposits are concentrated near or in poorer areas that currently receive central government subsidies. Shale gas could, if the reserves prove sufficient, help many of these areas become wealth producing ones again, and a healthy competitor to London’s super-dominance: a true Northern Powerhouse.
Therefore, rather than centrally controlling exploitation of shale resources, complete control should be handed over to local councils for the licensing, taxation and regulation of shale gas exploration and production. This would give local communities every incentive to exploit the resource in a sensible manner, and build up an entire industrial culture around it. The template for this is Aberdeen, which very successfully in the 1970s turned itself as a central hub for North Sea oil exploration. This included a partnership with the local university, which created a plethora of courses based around petroleum engineering and geology, the local council and the oil industry.
Of course the benefits of exploiting local shale deposits don’t stop at building the industrial infrastructure necessary for doing so. The production of cheap energy at or near the sites of our remaining great industries such as chemical and steel can only help their international competitiveness.
Many might criticise a plan to culturally as well as economically transform a region as being too risky and ambitious. Yes, there would be problems with such radical devolution: inexperienced or ideological local councils could squander the proceeds of local sales taxes or shale exploration rights, and the nascent shale gas industry would certainly not welcome the instability involved. However, surely it is obvious that as a country we can not go on as we are, with North (along with Scotland, Wales and Ulster) continually limping along resentfully behind and our national wealth creation so over-reliant on London and the South East.
Furthermore, the situation could well continue to deteriorate: if you want to see what the North’s future looks like without major devolution of powers which includes control over natural resources, just look at Scotland today: a deeply embittered, anti-capitalist country that feels its oil has been stolen from it. If we had been far-sighted enough to give the Scots control over oil exploration when the opportunity allowed, do we really think it would in such a culturally parlous state today?
In short, offering the North complete and radical devolution over it’s affairs, complete with control over it’s own revenue generation and exploitation of natural resources could be a very attractive winning policy for UKIP when competing with a Corbynist Labour party that can offer only that old time religion of centralised state control.
A Corbyn-led Labour Party and the opportunities afforded by Shale Gas give UKIP a golden window of opportunity to take and transform the North. After exit from the EU, that should become our new moral mission, as well as our eventual route to power.