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The Rigged Market

There’s a book with the rather unsexy title ’23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’ by Ha Joon Chang. It’s worth a browse however. Chang’s first axiom in the book of what they don’t tell you is that there is no such thing as ‘the free market’. Every market to a greater or lesser extent, is rigged. It may be rigged in terms of state interests, or trade tariffs or making a commodity deliberately scarce, but every market has a bias or interest. And that’s what makes it so difficult to make markets fair. There’s never a straight relationship between the seller and the customer. There’s always something that lies beneath.

In this climate where energy prices have shot up and the war continues in Ukraine, we need to take a long hard look at where we are with energy. Because there is no market as essential, or as rigged as energy is. And it is the toxic undercurrent in the war in Ukraine. Russia is one of the biggest suppliers of oil and gas in Europe and it has used that clout to advance its own interests and generally do outrageous things that other countries are afraid to interfere in, for fear of being cut off.

So how is the energy market rigged? Well, look at the fuels of choice. The main ones are oil and gas. Both of them are geo specific and both of them are limited commodities. Some countries have oil and gas. Others don’t. Therefore, the ones that don’t, either have to buy from the ones that do or find an alternative source of fuel. Most opt to buy from the countries that do, because, well, all our machinery, power plants and transport run off it. And that means  that those countries are now in hock to the ones with oil and gas. Because energy isn’t simply a commodity. It is an essential. You can’t run countries without it.

When you have control of that market, you wield tremendous power. You can turn countries’ lights on and off. You can put their fuel prices up and cause riots. You can leave them short of fuel and crash their economy. For those in control, this power is intoxicating. For the rest of us, it is simply toxic. Round this control has been built the entire structure of geopolitics, triggering off war after war in the oil producing countries. War is big business as well for this market. It’s not for nothing that oil is known as ‘the black curse’ in the Middle East.

Of late that market has been challenged. Because there are other fuels and unlike oil and gas they are widely available. I refer of course to green energy; water, wind and solar power.  Unlike an oil tap, you can’t turn the sun on and off. Neither can you control the wind or the waves. That means you can’t make it scarce. It’s not geo specific to the extent that oil and gas is. That means that you can’t hold other countries to ransom. Once the infrastructure is in, that’s it. No more fights about fuel shortages. No more fighting over where a pipeline is being laid. No more sooking up to the Saudis while they bomb Yemen. We would have cheap available limitless energy and the stable economy to go with it.  Wouldn’t it be bliss?

Which is why oil and gas companies and governments have so fiercely resisted this technology. Ask yourselves why continents like Africa aren’t covered in solar panels. Or why Scotland hasn’t fully developed its potential for wind and wave power. Or why Germany hasn’t for that matter. It’s the biggest political battle being fought on the international stage right now. Oil and gas is an old energy industry. Its future if any, lies in plastics. But it is not going to go easily and is only giving up ground inch by grudging inch. The connection between Trump and Putin was that both of them had interests in oil and both of them were involved in propping up the oil oligarchs’ interests in both America and Russia. Both their governments were funded by these interests. These industries are old hands at influencing government and are well imbedded in their decision structure. And they also know how to stay under the radar. However, the war in Ukraine has brought them blinking into the sunlight. The boycotting of Russian interests and Putin’s subsequent threats with regard to oil and gas has thrown the energy market and how it operates into sharp relief. And it has also placed Scotland front and centre in terms of importance of European politics.

For we are one of the main producers of oil and gas in Europe. And also, we are one of the countries with the best potential for green energy. We are the key which is going to lock or unlock this situation and determine the future of Europe.

Do you find that hard to believe? We’ve been told for so long that we don’t matter, we’re not important and nobody loves us. In actual fact we hold all the cards in this game of energy . And we need to wake up to our importance fast. Because we can be the devil or the angel in this suit.

There can be two responses to the current crisis. It can be used as an argument for developing green energy. Or it could be used as a short term argument for developing fracking and opening new oil fields. In either scenario, Scotland is going to be front and centre. Those arguing for green energy need to get a move on in making their case and arguing for green energy in terms of geo politics, rather than climate change. Corporate companies can argue any number of scientific facts, mights and maybes about climate change, but what they can’t dispute is that Europe is being held to ransom over energy and that fuel prices are going through the roof. They have overreached themselves and now is the time to make yourselves heard. Don’t let a good crisis go to waste, as Churchill said.

Secondly, the independence movement needs to use this. Again, there are a lot of mights and maybes about how independence might work or not, but people are in no doubt about the money being picked out of their pockets and the fact that their own government currently can do very little about it. We need to help them join the dots as to why this is happening.

The tectonic plates of politics are shifting in Europe. If Scotland plays its cards right, we can gain both our independence and help Europe and our planet at the same time, but the time to play is now.

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