By Guy Ingerson
If you spend too much time on social media, like me, you’d think the Scottish Government had this week just sold the first born of every family in Scotland. What am I talking about? The ScotWind lease auction of course. If you’re not nerding out over energy production, have you ever lived?
The ScotWind auction means 17 offshore wind projects across 14 areas have been leased to a wide variety of corporations and consortiums, from BP to ScottishPower. Through the Scottish Crown Estate, this has raised just under £700million for the Scottish Government with an estimated 25GW (gigawatts) of power set to be generated when the projects are complete. For every gigawatt, roughly £1billion is set to be invested into the Scottish supply chain. Details on exactly how the supply chain and communities will benefit are still be made public but this is a good signal of intention. In total, this is approximately £25.7billion of investment in Scotland. To put that into context, the entire Scottish Government budget is £35billion, we are set to generate 25GW yet the amount of energy we currently use is rough 5GW. The winds of change are blowing.
So far so good, right? The Scottish Government could only dream of raising and investing this kind of money itself. With minimal to zero borrowing powers, a cost-of-living crisis hitting household bills, and no appetite from any of us on the Left to cut capital investment elsewhere, where else would £25.7billion come from? With potentially huge additional power capacity, 10yrs from now, we can enhance energy security, further decarbonise, and export electricity to our neighbours to boot. Of course, for a vocal minority of my colleagues on the Left this just isn’t good enough. We are expected to wait until Scotland has sufficient borrowing powers, we should hold off for a decade or more until the state has the money. Are people like me expected to tell Rebecca in Aberdeen that she cannot transition her job into renewables until Hugh in Portobello feels more comfortable? Should we tell communities in the Maldives that they should ignore the water round their ankles because some people don’t like how something is paid for, they prefer a different method of payment instead? I don’t know about the motivations of others on the Left, but I got into politics to deliver for people.
This may seem an unusual position for a Scottish Green to take. Since when have we been promoting the involvement of BP in our transition? Haven’t we been actively fighting their involvement? Didn’t some of us accuse them of being arsonists? Well, yes, I and my colleagues have and will continue to do so where it makes sense and is necessary. Fighting their involvement in local government decision-making or in education and culture is however different to getting them to pay us to deliver something we want, need, and cannot afford to do ourselves. Elected representatives in Aberdeen City Council shouldn’t be outsourcing their responsibilities to corporations and there are plenty of wealthy middle-class culture vultures out there to help fund an art museum. Can we say the same for building 25GW of offshore wind energy?
Is this way of investing for our transition ideal? No. In an ideal world we would have the resources to do this ourselves, retain the profits at home, and create well-paid, sustainable jobs. However, we don’t live in such a world. We live in a devolved state, within a straight-jacket union, on a capitalist-run planet. That means realist reformism is sometimes the only route to delivering change for our communities whilst we continue fighting for more, for better. We need well-paid jobs for people to transition too, especially in my region of the North East, especially for those young people seeking work in the Highlands and Islands. We need to reduce our emissions and decarbonise our economy now, not a decade or two away. This round of leasing gets us going within the powers and resources we have today.
The door is open for future change, however. Despite the wind generated by the Twitterati, these projects are based on 10yr leases. We haven’t sold the seabed off to corporate giants. This means we the people, through the governments we elect, are the landlord. If the conditions of these leases are broken, then we can sell them to others or move to ensure a public stake when we have the resources. We’ve seen how much these sites are in demand, perhaps we could have asked for more in hindsight and we can do at the next round of leasing. The opportunities in manufacturing and engineering also look set to finally open for companies and people in Scotland. Trade unions, and my party the Scottish Greens, have been highly and rightly critical of the low number of green jobs that have been created so far. We won’t be making every turbine or blade, other nations such as Germany or China overtook our lead on this under successive governments, of every other party. There will be manufacturing of the steel towers on which the turbines sit at Nigg and there is the possibility of cabling, seabed substations, and the smaller components that are needed to be produced here, in Scotland. This could create many jobs but will need government support from every level. The nature of that support is up to us, and scrutiny of our government is crucial to create the jobs that have been promised.
Our focus for now needs shift to community energy and on sectors where we cannot afford to lose our lead or take our foot off the peddle. Sectors such as tidal power, housing, and expanding our railways. These are areas where the state must be driving change, reducing our bills, abolishing fares, and slashing our emissions because we have the power and can raise the revenue. We cannot let the pseudo-intellectual doom mongers in our movement make the perfect the enemy of the good. We don’t have the time for them to get onboard. We need to get this done and get it done now. It might feel uncomfortable but lives and livelihoods depend on it.