Last Wednesday, every single Norwegian became a millionaire – without having to lift a lillefinger. They owe the windfall to their coastline, and a huge dollop of good sense.
Last week, the balance hit a million krone for everyone in Norway. Norwegians can’t take a hammer to the piggy bank, amassed strictly to provide for future generations. And converted into pounds, the 5.11 trillion krone becomes a mere £100,000 for every man, woman and child. Still, the oljefondet (the government pension fund of Norway) owns over 1% of the world’s stocks, a big chunk of Regent Street and some of the most prime property in Paris: a pretty decent whipround for just five million people.
Wish it could have been you with a hundred-grand bonus? Here’s the really nauseating part: it should have been. Britain had its share of North Sea oil, described by one PM as „God’s gift” to the economy. We pumped hundreds of billions out of the water off the coast of Scotland. Only unlike the Norwegians, we’ve got almost nothing to show for it. Our oil cash was magicked into tax cuts for the well-off, then micturated against the walls of a thousand pricey car dealerships and estate agents.
Compare and contrast with the Norwegian experience. In 1974, Oslo laid down the principle that oil wealth should be used to develop a „qualitatively better society”, defined by historian Helge Ryggvik as „greater equality”. Ten oil commandments were set down to ensure the industry was put under democratic control – which it remains to this day, with the public owning nearly 70% of the oil company and the fields. It’s a glimpse of what Britain could have had, had it been governed by something more imaginative and less rapacious than Thatcherism.
If Scotland had held on to the revenues from North Sea oil, the question today would not be how it would manage solo, but how London would fare without its bankrollers over Hadrian’s Wall. Oljeeventyr is how Norwegians refer to their recent history: the oil fairy tale. It conveys the magic of how in just a few decades, they have been transformed from being the poor Nordic neighbour to being the richest. We have no equivalent term for our North Sea experience, but let me suggest one: a scandal.