Last Thursday the LibDems and their Tory allies were heavily defeated by the SNP, Labour and the Greens when they tried to tell the Scottish Government that it could have the £191 million Fossil Fuel Levy surplus to spend on immediate priorities for renewables development, such as harbour infrastructure.
We had been waiting for the Comprehensive Spending Review to find out how the London coalition was going to tackle this longstanding sore. Labour had prevaricated in office, giving hints before the Westminster election in May that they would make it available. This did not happen.
Over the summer the SNP Government was told by the Treasury that it was nigh on impossible to change their rules in order to release this small amount of money that was raised in Scotland and is urgently required for Scottish marine renewable development.
Instead the LibDem motion in Holyrood conveyed the London Government message that offered us a £250 million sub to the new Green Investment Bank, purely for Scottish use, you understand. But only after it is created in 2014.
Meanwhile the Scottish Government was urged to draw down the £191 million now and use it for harbour development etc. Just one snag, £191 million would be cut from our Scottish block grant next year – yes a 100% penalty! Yet the LibDem speakers told us that it was time the SNP Government started cooperating with London, and, implied we should do as we are told!
Right when we are suffering drastic cuts in our coffers they want us to cut even more. And this despite Chris Huhne, the Coalition Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, seeing with his own eyes the urgent need for cash on a visit to Caithness and the northern isles last month. As previously reported he re-announced a £2 million grant from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's regeneration fund for the Scrabster harbour development package.
SNP MSPs were furious with the LibDems. Even more so with John Thurso and Michael Moore staging a carefully choreographed question session in Westminster the day before our debate so as to show how keen the LibDems are to see renewable development.
As I said in the Holyrood debate, that was smoke and mirrors. Michael Moore pretends that he cares, but refuses to make Scotland's money available when it is urgently needed without a penalty of equal amount to the Scottish block grant. Tell that to the people of Caithness and the enterprising board of Scrabster Harbour Trust, which is trying to facilitate the renewables revolution in the very week the Inner Sound seabed lease was awarded to MeyGen who want to use Scrabster as a base.
There is zero respect for the Scottish Parliament in London and among Liberal Democrat MSPs a similar view. In reality, our efforts to promote renewables could set back by more than three years. What a record for five months of Liberal Democrats in the UK coalition.
No wonder that Stewart Stevenson, the Minister replying for the SNP Government rounded on the LibDems. He said,
“It is absolutely vital that the money is made available to Scotland immediately and in a way that is additional. It will enable us to start making investments in Liberal areas right across Scotland—Scrabster harbour, Orkney, Shetland and Kishorn. Liberal voters will be looking at the behaviour of their MSPs in denying them access to the money with some grave concern indeed.”
The debate about port developments to support marine renewables in Scotland has taken a new turn this week. HIE has to support the delivery of the Scrabster package as a matter of urgency.
You may now see how urgent and important was the First Minister’s Conference call in Perth three weeks ago that “The independence I seek is the independence to create jobs”. It is precisely that subject that the Economy, Energy and Tourism committee explored on its visit the Isle of Skye last Monday. As vice convener I was pleased to see our committee visit the Highlands again, for we came to Caithness on a fact finding visit on energy matter eighteen months ago.
Much comment has been made on the effectiveness of HIE to back the transformation of Caithness and many other mainland areas and islands outwith Inverness. I know that the SNP Government expects it to pull out the stops to deliver government policy, such as marine renewable development. That will be the litmus test for the Far North. HIE bosses will be heard in committee in January.
You know I have a soft spot for stopping climate change. Yes, it’s a large peat bog in the Flow Country. That’s been the subject of much comment on radio and papers this week. I led a member’s debate on Thursday evening to coincide with the IUCN UK Committee peatland enquiry held in Edinburgh University.
It means that large areas of peat bog if kept wet or rewetted can hold as much carbon dioxide and methane as can be saved from half of other sources of emissions in this country. Scotland has 80% of the UK’s peatlands and of the 175 peatland countries of the world the UK is in the top twenty.
No it isn’t sad compared to watching the X Factor on TV. There could be new jobs both for the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso to measure the health of the bogs and workers wielding spades and diggers to rewet the Flows to help the process.
It is hard to imagine us thinking of the Arctic prairies of the Flow country in this way twenty years ago. But today the world appreciates there worth. So should we all.