IN this week of 1975, the biggest robbery in Scottish history started. Scotland’s North Sea oil was first taken ashore from the Argyll field some 200 miles east of Fife and the Firth of Forth.

A year earlier, the SNP campaigned on the slogan “It’s Scotland’s oil” and won 11 seats to become the fourth largest party in the Commons. But successive UK governments made sure it was never Scotland’s oil.

Many people falsely date the start of commercial production of North Sea oil to the beginning of November 1975, probably because that is when British Petroleum began pumping oil from its Forties Field, with none other than Her Majesty the Queen around to switch on the process.

It is a hard fact, however, that the first North Sea oil came ashore from the Argyll field operated by the Hamilton Brothers company based in Denver, Colorado, in the US. Yep, the Yanks got there first, but we can’t have that in the history books. So BP got the Queen, while Hamilton Bros had to make do with Anthony Wedgwood Benn, always known as Tony, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Energy in Harold Wilson’s Labour government.

On June 11, 1975, Benn went to the Isle of Grain Refinery in Kent to greet a Liberian-registered tanker chartered by Hamilton Bros to ship their oil ashore – no pipelines were in service at that point, though they were under construction.

The BBC’s Michael Buerk couldn’t resist telling viewers that Benn, the great hope of the Labour left, had been conveyed to the tanker aboard a “Russian-built hydrofoil”. He then took part in a mock ceremony to mark the arrival of the first North Sea oil – a fake, as there was no connection to the refinery at that point.

Nevertheless it was a seminal moment in Scottish history, and we can only look back and wonder what if the oil had been used for, say, an oil fund similar to Norway’s which is now worth more than £1 trillion

Benn himself said: “It does give this country a great opportunity which it’s long needed of developing a full four-fuel economy. We will be, in time, one of the 10 largest oil producing countries in the world. Its significance for Britain is very great indeed.”

He was right to be optimistic about oil and gas production. Within a decade, 2.6 million barrels of oil per day were being extracted from 29 fields.

Argyll’s story was typical of many fields in the North Sea. During the first 17 years it was operating, some 72.6 million barrels of light crude was produced, but by 1992, with an oil price of under $20 per barrel and daily production dipping below 6000 barrels a day, the wells were plugged and the field was abandoned. When oil prices rose, the field was re-opened and only finally closed five years ago.

The year 1975 also saw the beginning of the main construction phase of Sullom Voe terminal on Shetland. The local council had achieved a good bargain in terms of income for the islands, and though everyone knew a ruggedly beautiful part of Shetland would soon be covered in 1000 acres of steel, the price was thought to be worth paying.

This is what Encyclopaedia Britannica says about Sullom Voe: “One of the largest facilities of its kind in Europe, Sullom Voe handled more than one-fourth of the United Kingdom’s petroleum production in the late 1990s and employed about 500 people. Crude oil flows through an underwater pipeline from several North Sea oil fields located about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of the Shetland Islands to the onshore pipeline terminal at Sullom Voe, where huge tankers are loaded. The construction of the terminal and associated port and storage facilities, power station and processing plant to separate gas from crude oil was one of the largest civil engineering projects in western Europe since World War II and one of the key achievements of the Scottish offshore petroleum industry.”

What many people back in 1975 did not realise was that BP and others involved in the construction were making it up as they went along.

Sullom Voe’s chief builder Basil Butler CBE, addressing a seminar held by the Institute of Contemporary British History in December, 1999, said: “We had contractors on site. We were building things, but we hadn’t actually designed the place yet. We had to design it as we went along. There is no way I could come round to Tony Benn, who was then Secretary of State for Energy, and say I’m going to shut this thing down for two years and complete the design, and it will be a much better job at the end. I mean, I would have been run off very quickly indeed if I tried to do that. We had to do the best we could, which was to build the thing quickly and design it as we went along.”

Designed on the run it may have been, but Sullom Voe became a lynch pin for the North Sea oil industry and while its future is never guaranteed, the massive oil field finds west of the Shetlands should mean the terminal continues long past its original planned lifetime of 40 years.

The whole question of North Sea oil’s benefit to Scotland was raised again last year when The National published Professor Gavin McCrone’s report in full. Readers may recall that the professor warned the UK government in 1974 that oil could make an independent Scotland vastly rich – no wonder successive government’s suppressed the report.

And it really was Scotland’s oil – figures produced by experts for the Scottish Government showed that in the Scottish section of the UK Continental Shelf, over the 15-year period to 2013, oil production was a staggering 93% of the UK’s total.

In total, over the past four-and-a-half decades, corporate taxes from North Sea oil and gas have contributed more than £300bn to the UK Treasury, and it all began in this month in 1975.