By James Millar
The economy has taken centre stage for the majority of the debate.
The debate around energy in a separate Scotland has generated plenty of
heat, and some light.
Alex Salmond says a separate Scotland could be “the Saudi Arabia of green
energy”, rich in alternative sources of power. Westminster conceded that
Scotland is an “energy hub” but warned independence will lead to higher
bills – perhaps by up to £200.
There’s no doubt that Scotland has the right conditions to generate
electricity – there’s no shortage of wind, water and waves. Under the SNP
administration, Scotland has already become a world leader in green
technology. Then there’s North Sea oil and gas to add into the mix.
Both sides agree a single market in which energy can flow between Scotland
and the rest of the UK as required is the best way forward.
But while the Scottish Government asserts that it will continue after
independence, the Department for Energy and Climate Change in London say
that’s “unlikely”. And that, says DECC, means higher bills. For example
currently everyone pays around £1 extra on their bill to fund
infrastructure necessary to deliver energy to some of Britain’s remotest
The people who benefit, many in the Highlands and Islands, save around £36
off their bill as a result. Take away the contribution of the 23 million
households in the rest of the UK and that leaves Scotland’s 2.4 million
households footing a much higher bill.
According to DECC if you add together all those sorts of costs and divvy
them up between five million people rather than pooled across 50 million,
Scots would face an extra £189 on their bill.
There’s also the issue of renewables.
The SNP want Scotland powered solely by green electricity by 2020, hence
the march of the windmill across the nation. But though wind is free,
windmills and the power they generate are not. They require huge levels of
subsidy. Currently UK bill payers fund the expansion of alternative
technologies in order to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.
But if Scotland separates, the Westminster Government is unlikely to
continue to subsidise what would become foreign windfarms. The remaining UK
could put up its own turbines in the shallow seas off England, a new
nuclear power station being built will cut carbon emissions and if it still
needed to buy green energy in order to hit carbon targets it would do so
wherever it was cheapest – that could as likely be from France as Scotland.
If Alex Salmond wants to continue his support for wind the subsidy money
will have to be generated in Scotland – either through higher bills or
higher taxes. The alternative would be to turn the turbines off and let
them rot. But then where would the energy come from?
Currently almost a third of Scotland’s energy comes from the two nuclear
power stations at Torness and Hunterston. But the SNP are committed to a
nuclear-free Scotland and they are coming to the end of their lifespan.
Wind might make up the gap, but only when it blows. If the turbines don’t
turn Scotland would have to import electricity and the laws of supply and
demand dictate that since power will be scarce on those days it will be
It also raises questions around energy security. The SNP’s White Paper sets
out “enhancing security of supply” as an aim of independence. Yet Scotland
could find itself occasionally reliant on another country to keep the
The very fact the SNP policy on energy is essentially to keep things as
they are points to an understanding that it’s the best arrangement.
The decision for Scots is whether any perceived benefits of independence in
other areas outweigh what seems a clear case of making things more
difficult than they already are in this one.