I was struck this week by the juxtaposition of the news agendas north and south of the border in relation to energy matters. On the same day, no less.
First, there was the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, welcoming the multi-million pound acquisition of Horizon Nuclear Power by Hitachi, as an investment which will “play a big role in the growth of the UK economy“. Which is not quite right.
Because with the SNP in power here, the chances of Hitachi being allowed to build any of the proposed six UK nuclear plants in Scotland are precisely nil.
That same day, planning consent was provided by Highland Council for a huge hydro-electric scheme to be constructed at a cost of £800 million at Glenfinnan, to the north of Loch Lochy.
The Hitachi deal is being heralded as having the potential to contribute to a low-carbon future energy policy for the UK and if I heard correctly, is being proclaimed by David Cameron as being required and desirable in terms of aiding the UK to meet its 2020 target of 20% reduction in carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, the Coire Glas hydro-electric scheme has the potential to enable Scotland to make significant progress to the much more radical and ambitious targets we have set ourselves for generating 80% of our electricity supply from renewable sources.
[UPDATE: apparently, the 2011 Manifesto raised this target to 100% – telt youse I wisnae an expert…]
And if anyone has detected some hesitation in these assertions, I am happy to admit that the hesitation betrays my lack of detailed knowledge of the ins and outs of energy policy. Feel free, Greeny types, to correct me, but for once, let’s not focus on the detail and simply rejoice in the vision, for what the dual announcements illuminate in stark relief is the divergence of approach. Like so much else, energy demonstrates the difference between Scotland and rUK, with quite distinct policy agendas and polar opposite political priorities.
While all around us swirls the heat of claim and counter-claim on issues such as economy, currency, EU membership and defence in terms of the independence debate, surely energy provides a sound reason, made plain with these announcements, to vote yes. Funny how it has elicited much less analysis and far fewer headlines.
For energy is a key area which shows what we can achieve with the powers we have, but also indicates how much more secure our future can be by voting yes to independence. With independence, we can cement a no-nuclear future for Scotland and absolutely establish our “too wee, too poor” country as a world class leader in renewables.
Moreover, energy is an area in which we can turn the No camp’s narrative on its head. In 2014, we can vote to stay put and risk enabling nuclear power stations being built in Scotland or we can vote yes and go it alone to create a secure future which is better for ourselves and for future generations.
The only reason Hitachi is interested in moving into the UK market is because Japan is moving towards a non-nuclear future too. Another point to hammer home methinks. They’re only here because no one else wants them and far from being a “multi-billion pound vote of confidence in the UK“, as the Prime Minister claimed, the investment represents a desperate dash to a place of last resort.
And on energy, the only possible antidote the Better Together team might come up with, is that without us and our higher, keener focus on climate change targets and investment in renewable energy sources, the UK might not manage to achieve its targets Which would be a novel spin on an increasingly familiar refrain, but hardly a compelling reason to stay.
There is also mileage to be gained from one of the crucial differences between the two announcements, relating to the certainty of delivery. Whether or not you can live with a nuclear future, the Hitachi deal is so couched in caveats and still-to-be made decisions, that it might never get beyond this initial acquisition. Yet in Scotland, the biggest ever hydro-electric scheme in our history is all but a done deal. Given the Scottish Government’s penchant for renewables, it is hard to see what might stop it going ahead.
Which opens up a whole new front in indy referendum rhetoric: if you want to keep the lights switched on in Scotland, vote yes.