Reform Scotland

Where is energy in the Programme for Government? – Stuart Paton

On the same day that the First Minister announced his Programme for Government, the British Prime Minister announced an end to the de facto ban on onshore windfarms in England. That the announcement from Rishi Sunak was more material than anything Humza Yousaf had to say about energy shows how low the bar has been set. We at Reform Scotland have previously pointed out the lack of clarity on the Scottish government’s net zero targets- at least 18 visions and strategies creating a messy policy landscape. We have stated that the Scottish government will need to bring the Scottish people with them on the cost of these targets. There was nothing in the First Minister’s statement which addressed any of these issues.

The First Minister does seem to understand the need for a thriving economy to fund the promised additional state provision and the statement was broadly supported by the Federation of Small Businesses. An understanding of economic reality, and particularly the importance of small businesses, would be a strong basis for supporting initiatives required to deliver on Net Zero such as retraining the work force for heat pump installation or expansion of vehicle charging points. The Scottish Energy Minister, Gillian Martin, spoke at the large Offshore Europe conference in Aberdeen on Wednesday. However, her speech seemed to consist largely of platitudes about ‘listening to the industry’ and the ‘opportunities of the energy transition’ rather than any statements on policy. Presumably reiterating the First Minister’s comment that he is ‘not convinced’ the Rosebank field development should go ahead would not have gone down well with this audience.

The Scottish government has set out a clear commitment to Net Zero and the technology to deliver the goal is largely well understood. However, the strategic choices required to deliver on this commitment need to be urgently and clearly set. The government has so far failed to do this with a muddled strategy and the recent consultation process. The landscape is also changing as offshore wind becomes more expensive, due to increased commodity prices and other countries rapidly growing their capacity.

As we have previously stated, there is a mammoth job in convincing individuals of the importance of the Net Zero commitment and the changes in lifestyle required by all of us. Without this work, including public awareness campaigns and regulation, the democratic legitimacy of the commitment is completely undermined. The First Minister’s statement would have been an ideal opportunity to set out the Government’s priorities on energy. Failing to do so says a lot about the Government’s ambition to actually deliver on Net Zero. 

Stuart Paton is an energy industry advisor and former Chief Executive of Dana Petroleum. He is also an associate of Reform Scotland