Scottish business interests ride out economic gales

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Despite the deep economic recession and the fact that Scotland is experiencing one of the highest unemployment levels within the United Kingdom -- 10 percent of Scots workers are idle -- Scottish business interests are playing a significant role in investment plans designed to help Britain regain its industrial prosperity.

The Scottish Tourist Board, which publicizes the activities of a trade worth hundreds of millions of pounds to Scotland, has embarked on a major sales drive planned to attract thousands of more visitors from America and Europe into what the information agency has described as one of the "last great playgrounds" this side of the Atlantic.

But it is the continuing buildup of North Sea oil recovery operations off the Shetland Islands and the northeast port of Aberdeen which is helping some areas in Scotland to ride out an economic gale pushing total Scottish unemployment toward the 300,000 mark.

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While Scotland as a whole has not seen any dramatic rise in job opportunities as a result of the giant petroleum companies' activities around the country's northern shores, the vast investment in North Sea drilling projects has been a great morale booster to many Scots and a source of strength for Cabinet ministers at Westminster grappling with the greatest industrial crisis since the 1930s.

A spokesman for the nationalized British National Oil Corporation, which is fully engaged in North Sea drilling activities, has recently said that the development of the oil fields off northern Scotland "had only just begun adn the potential opportunities and problems are enormous."

Despite the new taxes levied on the companies' drilling around the Shetlands and off Aberdeen, there is no evidence that extra money which the British Treasury has been collecting from the petroleum recovery operators since mid-March has in any way reduced North Sea exploration work. In fact, the amount of people and firms wishing to invest in Britain's oil exploration business appears to be increasing and diversifying with each new round of government licenses.

More than 100 companies were recently given licenses to participate in petroleum drilling in 37 marked blocks in the North Sea. Over 70 of these firms are British and include the Fishermen's Petroleum Company, a new enterprise created to help underemployed trawlermen in the run-down fishing trade reap some gains from the booming oil business.

Yet Britain is not fully using this massive investment in North Sea oil to gain a maximum of the opportunities for selling petroleum abroad. The UK is exporting large quantities of coal to West Germany and plans to send Israel many millons of tons of coal within the next few years.

This unexpected and dramatic rise in British coal exports could be of tremendous benefit to the UK's industrial recovery. The sales to West Germany and Israel appear to vindicate the recent decision by Britain's National Union of Mineworkers to challenge the government's plans to close down many pits -- proposals subsequently dropped by the Cabinet.

Scottish leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers have consistently attacked measures by successive Labor and Conservative administrations to reduce the number of coal mines in the north and the UK as a whole. Recent substantial investment in Britain's coalfields, with vast deposits ready to be worked well into the next century, will enable the UK to regain its position held before World War II as a major coal exporter.

Another sign pointing toward some measure of economic recovery is the launching of a newspaper in Glasgow with a widespread Scottish sale. The Sunday Standard, started during the worst slump since the 1920s and '30s, is a hopeful indication that the worst of the economic recession is over and that Scotland is moving out of the depression with the rest of the UK.

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