The writer is leader of the Scottish Labour party
Scotland is on the cusp of an offshore energy revolution — despite both the Scottish National party and the Conservatives’ best attempts to squander it.
Nowhere is this missed potential clearer than in the case of ScotWind. The seabed leasing project has already given companies the rights to develop up to 25 gigawatts of power off Scotland’s coasts and to build some of the biggest floating wind farms in the world.
While these are welcome developments, they fail to make the most of Scotland’s potential because the public has not been given a direct stake. Licences sold cheaply to foreign companies (themselves often state-owned) and weak procurement terms mean the SNP government has quite literally left money and jobs on the table.
We are in the ludicrous position where Vattenfall — a publicly owned company in Sweden — will profit more from wind farms off our coast than taxpayers in Scotland.
This is not the only example of a wasted opportunity. The SNP promised the country a national energy company — this has now been scrapped. A nationalist commitment to 130,000 green energy jobs that would turn Scotland into “the Saudi Arabia of renewables” has vanished like a mirage.
The failure to reform planning laws leaves shovel-ready renewable projects languishing, while the two governments in Holyrood and in Westminster wonder aloud about how to prepare for a just transition from fossil fuels, including in the North Sea. Geography has surrounded the nation with the means to generate green power, populated by people with ideas to make it happen. We need change to make sure Scottish businesses and consumers reap the benefits of energy production on our shores.
Keir Starmer has committed to the creation of Great British Energy — a new publicly owned generating company — in the first year of a Labour government. GB Energy would transform the UK, and Scotland within it, into an energy superpower. It will harness the power of Scotland’s wind and waves (and yes, some sun) to create hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2030, cut energy bills and deliver energy security for our country. It would change lives and deliver on net zero targets.
Take ferries, for example. The SNP managed to turn the construction of two new ferries for Scotland’s state-owned Scottish ferry operator from a little local difficulty into an international symbol of bungled procurement. Among the more bizarre decisions was the choice to make the two ferries, already five years overdue and millions of pounds over budget, run on liquid natural gas and diesel. LNG is the Betamax video of ferry fuels — the wrong answer that leads to a technological dead end and will not power the future.
On another western seaboard, in San Francisco Bay, a new fossil-free ferry, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, is being trialled. In Norway, always an important comparator for oil-rich Scotland, two hydrogen-fuelled ferries are planned for 2025 which will use 85 per cent green power. Closer to home, Caledonian Maritime Assets, the state-owned ferry provider, is involved in a project in Orkney to develop a small, inter-island ferry propelled by carbon-neutral hydrogen fuel. It is predicted that within a decade, most ship traffic will move using this form of fuel.
These trends suggest that we should use the wind power from around the coast of Scotland to produce clean fuel to power our ferries, container ships and much else besides. Hitting the UK’s 10GW target for green hydrogen by 2030 would make the UK a world leader, providing clean storable power, decarbonising our industries and ensuring a secure supply.
For more than a decade, when it comes to capitalising on Scotland’s energy resources, we have had ministers in both Edinburgh and London who have not made good on their promises. It’s time to stop squandering our potential for generating green power and the high-skilled jobs that go with it.