1st July 1999

Scotland loses 6000 miles of its waters

The Scotland Act of 1998 made fundamental changes to the way Scotland was governed – and the size of its territorial waters. It was the legislation that enabled the Scottish Parliament and, in the event of a referendum on Scottish Independence, could limit the appeal of such a move on purely financial grounds.

The land border between Scotland and England is clearly defined on maps, running roughly south-west to north-east across the landmass. It largely follows the border defined in the Treaty of York. It might seem logical to continue the line out to sea in either direction to also define the maritime border between the two nations. However, this would violate Northern Ireland’s maritime area, and would not consider the geology of the sea floor.

Political changes

In a ‘united’ kingdom, any argument about who owns what is largely academic in terms of who can sail in the waters concerned, but other matters, such as which legal system governs oil fields, lighthouses and wrecks in those waters introduce a level of complication.

In a situation where the two nations are separate countries, as would be the case with Scotland and the remainder of the UK following Scottish independence, the issue becomes more pertinent still, as the maritime border would also define which nation holds the rights over fishing and owns the oil beneath the seabed.

Oil revenues have long been an important component of the Scottish economy, so the 1999 redrawing of the maritime border, in which Scotland lost 6000 square miles of the seabed is a matter for concern. Following independence, unless the marine border was again renegotiated, any oil within that area would become ‘English’ and would not contribute to the Scottish economy.

Scottish oil

How much difference this would make is debatable. If the line had instead been drawn with reference to the land border between the two nations so that it always remained equidistant between the closest land locations in England and Scotland (the median line), Scotland would be in possession of more of the seabed than it is under the 1999 definition.

However, according to a 16 April 2013 report on the BBC website (‘Who has a right to claim North Sea oil?’), “If Scotland were to get a “geographical share” based on the median line it would mean about 90% of the UK’s oil resources would be under Scottish jurisdiction. According to research by [the University of Aberdeen’s Professor Alex] Kemp, in 2010 the Scottish share of total oil production in the [UK Continental Shelf] was more than 95% while for gas it was 58%. The Scottish share of total hydrocarbon production (including NGLs) was 80%. The Scottish tax share exceeded 90%. This reflects the much higher value of oil compared to gas.”

The economic impact

So, while the redrawing of the marine border between the two nations may have removed a considerable area from Scottish control, it has made little difference to what it might expect to receive in oil revenues based on current known oil fields. However, should new reserves be discovered within the lost 6000 square miles in the future – and particularly after independence – it would be a different story altogether.



Other events that occured in July

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