While most Western politicians remain enthralled by events unfolding in the Middle East during the Arab spring that unexpectedly blossomed a year ago, an equally dramatic political tectonic shift is happening in Europe, where rising Scottish nationalism is putting the fear of God into Westminster’s politicians.
The Scottish National Party, founded in 1934, is suddenly rising in power and visibility. Four years ago in the Scottish Parliamentary election, the SNP became the largest political party in the Scottish Parliament for the first time, governing as a minority administration, with party leader Alex Salmond as First Minister of Scotland. During last year’s Scottish Parliamentary election the SNP won a landslide victory, becoming the first party to form a majority government in the Scottish Parliament since its resumption in 1999.
Salmond is calling for an independence referendum, which is giving British Prime Minister David Cameron apoplectic fits.
What would an independent Scotland mean in energy terms?
Well, for a start, there’s the North Sea oil.
As Scottish waters comprise a large sector of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, containing the largest oil resources in the European Union, Scotland is now the European Union's largest petroleum producer, with production beginning in 1976, a decade after the offshore deposits were discovered.
And the future?
In a 15 February speech at the London School of Economics Salmond has claimed he could set aside £1 billion a year in oil cash over the first two decades of Scottish independence and that such an investment pot would provide Scotland a £30 billion revenue fund 2035 to buffer itself against future economic storms. Salmond further asserted that had Scotland become independent 1979 it would have wiped out its debts within four years and run surpluses from the late 1980s onwards and would now have financial assets “worth anything from £87 billion to £117 billion.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Salmond’s claims were hotly contested.
But Scotland has other aces up its sleeve in the form of having some world-class firms involved in cutting-edge renewable technologies, from tidal power to wind.
But Scotland’s going green has encountered a few bumps along the road, and worse for the plucky highlanders could be yet to come.
American real estate mogul Donald Trump has threatened to pull the plug on his projected "greatest golf course in the world," an 18-hole extravaganza to be built on a stretch of protected sand dunes on the Aberdeenshire coast near Menie.
What has got the Donald so perturbed?
A leading renewable energy supplier, Vattenfal, intends to construct 11 giant wind turbines about a mile and a half off the coast from Trump's land.
And, just to show that politics makes strange bedfellows, what Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the area that covers the Donald’s beloved proposed Aberdeenshire course supports the project because of the jobs and economic benefits it could bring?
The same SNP leader who has claimed that Scotland will generate all its electricity demands from renewables by 2020 – leaving, of course, more oil to export.
And Salmond’s more grandiose green dreams (Aberdeenshire excepted, of course) face opposition from his fellow Scots. Conservative Member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson avers that traditional fishing communities in Fife are under threat from the Scottish Government’s obsession with off-shore renewable energy.
And Stevenson has some clout, as he is Vice-President of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee. The particular object of Stevenson’s ire is the Danish company Dong Energy plans to construct of a 13.5 square-mile wind farm at Westermost Rough, one of the most important parts of the Holderness coast fishery. Particularly incensing the MEP is the fact that if the project goes forward, Holderness fishermen will only be able to fish the area and gather their lobsters after obtaining permission from Dong Energy.
Mincing no words, Stevenson thundered at an event organized by Cameron Community Council, “The Scottish Government’s current plan for the footprint of off-shore wind farms looks set to cover vast areas that are of huge significance to traditional inshore fishermen in fragile Fife. Fishermen in communities like Pittenweem will be taking anxious notice of the plight facing the industry in Holderness. To see the areas they and their ancestors have fished for centuries sold to foreign energy companies, and to have to ask permission from a Danish company to use the remnants, will be too much to bear for many. The SNP government simply haven't thought this through. Why are they going to ruin areas that have been fished for hundreds of years in order to build wind turbines that will last 20 at a push? Why are they going to ruin the fragile village fishing industries of the East Neuk, which add immeasurably to the local economies and cultural heritage of Fife? And all of this in pursuit of a technology that is unreliable and inefficient.”
What makes Stevenson’s fulminations more than mere political theater is that he may well be an early precursor of a movement that could grow throughout the industrialized world, a pushback against the aesthetic and environmental consequences of green energy at any cost. It will indeed be interesting to see how Stevenson’s stance resonates amongst his fellow Scots and further abroad.
So, all in all, despite Scotland’s energy potential, independence and future energy policies promise a future full of fireworks, while giving Westminster’s politicians a good reason to knock back the scotch – not that they ever needed any. Scotland’s energy future accordingly seems as clear as Loch Ness on a rainy January day.
And the Donald?
Another story for another time, in the New York Post, not here.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com