Throughout the independence debate so far, one thing has been pretty much constant – Better Together have been telling us that there will be more powers for the Scottish Parliament if we vote No. Crucially, there’s been no actual commitment to this, not even a promise; just the gentle assurance that ‘you can trust us, honest, there’ll be more powers if you vote No’. It’s a clever tactic, as this is quite hard to refute really, how do we prove there won’t be more powers? I’m glad you asked…
At present there is a bill going through Westminster called the Energy Bill 2012-13 to 2013-14. The summary reads:
To make provision for or in connection with reforming the electricity market for purposes of encouraging low carbon electricity generation or ensuring security of supply; for the establishment and functions of the Office for Nuclear Regulation; about the government pipe-line and storage system and rights exercisable in relation to it; about the designation of a strategy and policy statement; for the making of orders requiring regulated persons to provide redress to consumers of gas or electricity; about offshore transmission of electricity during a commissioning period; for imposing further fees in respect of nuclear decommissioning costs; and for connected purposes.
Which all sounds incredibly dry and very dull. The reason for that is because it is incredibly dry and very dull. But it’s been dragged to our attention because yesterday the House of Commons read through the amendments that were proposed by the House of Lords, and completely failed to challenge the section removing powers regarding Renewables Obligations from the Scottish Parliament. This is the ability for the Scottish Government to help fund new renewable energy projects at its own discretion – ROs will be closed in 2017 and replaced with a new system open to nuclear and renewable energy projects but managed only by the Energy Secretary at Westminster.
The Scottish Government expressed deep concern about this amendment in the Parliament yet the House of Commons neglected to challenge this. Clearly this is an important precedent.
On one hand we have a democratically elected government with a large majority, and on the other we have an unelected second tier of government with no mandate, who may be appointed based on the size of their donation rather than their legislative ability. It’s fucking balls.
So, while making vague statements about potential new powers if we are kind enough to vote No in 2014, Westminster is actively removing powers that have real benefit to Scotland now. Renewable Obligations mean that the Scottish Government can take action to secure the energy supply in Scotland and boost infrastructure development and the economy. It means they can tackle the very different challenges that a vastly rural and spread out infrastructure face compared to the densely populated, industrialised rest of the UK. Challenges that, in his Autumn Statement, the chancellor George Osborne has decided to completely ignore by slashing onshore wind subsidies in favour of offshore subsidies and maintaining this rate across the UK, despite the Scottish islands facing distinct challenges which should mean a separate rate, as SNP MP Angus MacNeil stated today:
While Scotland’s islands are home to enormous amounts of potential renewable energy, producers face higher costs from harnessing these resources. Following intensive pressure from the Scottish Government and Scotland’s renewables sector, those cost pressures were recognised with the confirmation that there will be a specific strike price for islands, however the UK Government has failed to recognise the different needs.”
This is the key argument for independence. Scotland isn’t quite the same as the rUK and for us to effectively meet our challenges we need full control over policies such as renewable energy. Westminster agreeing to remove this control only proves that the vague notion of more powers, if we cast aside the opportunity for independence, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Scotland needs Westminster to step up and prove it recognises the different challenges we face; that it sees the renewable potential on our land and in our seas; and that it believes we can manage this on our own. I won’t be holding my breath.
Of course a greener Scotland is possible, but not with a Prime Minister who wants to “get rid of all the green crap”. We have the potential to create a staggering 25% of the renewable capacity for Europe. That’s immense. That’s awesome on a global scale and makes our oil potential look piddling. This won’t run out or be burnt away. It’s clear we’re being denied the ability to realise that potential with the removal of Renewable Obligations and the cut in onshore wind strike rate.
So considering all this, looking at all the information that’s out there and reading the constant utterings from Westminster and the Better Together campaigners, it’s a simple question you need to ask yourself – can you trust them when they say there’ll be more powers while they’re quietly removing the ones we already have? Can you?
Photo by Jason Layne