What may 56 SNP MPs do for UK Green Policies? – Dr Andrew Wright

The consternation at the election of 56 SNP Members of Parliament is understandable. The old order has gone, the size of the change is difficult to grasp.

For those of us resident in Scotland the Nationalists have been part of local and regional politics for decades. In the decade that the SNP have formed the Executive in Edinburgh they have established a distinctive set of policies. But the SNP have a track record on Green Issues. So it seems useful to offer a personal view of what their arrival at Westminster ‘en masse’ may mean for the UK in terms of ‘greening politics’. The election of MSPs to the Scottish legislature uses a top up system and so there have been MSPs from the Green Party for two decades. These have generally made common cause with the Nationalists on Fossil Fuel, Nuclear and Renewable Energy sources.

Set amongst the North Sea and West of Shetland oil and gas fields it is not surprising that use of these natural resources feature in any energy policy. But Inverkip and Cockenzie power stations have been decommissioned; Longannet has a limited future too; significantly reducing emissions. The Nuclear legacy of Hunterston and Torness will remain until their life is expired but Chapel Cross and Dounreay have been phased out. Moreover the reason for some of these closures has been economic forces motivating the owners of some facilities to close them. Whilst some campaign groups are critical of aspects of the SNP’s policies on oil and gas, the politicians have the legal and constitutional duty to the people of Scotland to keep the lights on, and their homes warm, at affordable costs. Transport policy aims to raise the electrified track mileage considerably, concentrating on the central belt commuter lines; this reduces unscrubbed emissions from diesel trains and shifts power generation to power stations where waste gas scrubbing can reduce any emissions that may arise. So it is not surprising that currently there are simultaneously shifts toward renewables and emission reduction, and a legacy of fossil fuel use that will continue for some time to come.

A look at renewable energy sites shows that in England some local authorities have a negative policy on wind energy. Maps show sizable areas (non-urban) without wind-farms; compare Cornwall and Somerset, clearly Somerset is not rushing to allow wind-farms.

This is less obviously so in Scotland; though there is clearly a desire to preserve areas of natural beauty. It is the stated policy of the SNP administration to have ‘renewable’ resources to generate 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020’. A further policy is to have ‘renewable resources provide the equivalent of 11% of Scotland’s heat demand by 2020.’ On Climate Change Scotland’s Climate Change Act sets a target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050-this includes aviation and shipping sources; but a world leading target of 42% reduction by 2020 is the interim target. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has raised concerns at the ability to meet the 2020 target in just 5 years—but it is better to set a stiff challenge and work to meet it, than to set an easily achievable target that is much lower.

The hydro-electric schemes at Cruachan and around Pitlochry are well known and are tourist attractions, and are not new; Pitlochry is well over 50 years old. Lesser known schemes at Lanark and in Dumfrieshire, though small, are also long established. Domestic solar voltaic panels are beginning to cover roofs despite the lower sunshine levels in the north. But over the last decade wind power has been increasing rapidly. This is not a wholesale charge towards wind-farms; many schemes are refused or markedly scaled back.

A wind farm with over 200 turbines exists south of Glasgow; the area north of Beattock, astride the M74, has a wind-farm with over 180 turbines. There are numerous wind-farms with over 50 turbines. As you approach the Highlands from the south east there are wind farms—but few comment that they spoil the view.
But there are a growing number of micro, mini and midi windmills appearing at farms, new build houses in the country, industrial sites and at industrial estates; In the South Lanarkshire Council area these have been the main area of growth in the last 3 years. Indeed from our bungalow window we can see a midi sized windmill just 1km from the edge of town.

So, whatever the constitutional implications of the SNP being the third largest party in the House of Commons expect support for Green policies from the 56 MPs. Though they may abstain from voting on issues that are Anglo-Welsh there will be a positive contribution on Renewable Energy and alternative power generation. I anticipate positive contributions in committees and in the tea rooms and bars of the Houses of Parliament. Amber Rudd may find a tartan breeze pushing her forward toward Paris—and beyond– in her Ministerial role on Climate Change.

Dr Andrew Wright was a medical science lecturer in Hong Kong and Edinburgh. He is a Director of JRI and is a church deacon and politically, is by conviction, a unionist.

Editor’s Note: As stated in the text, the views are those of the author and are not necessarily those of JRI.