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Agenda:

To anyone asking for the positive case for Scotland staying in the Union, a surprising source is strongly recommended.

The Scottish Government's White Paper has been widely discredited for its assertions and unfunded promises. Yet, the document is very clear about the platform on which Scotland can build a prosperous future.

Sterling, EU membership, UK-wide financial regulation, a single British energy market, UK-wide lottery funding for the third sector, UK-wide research funding for the HE sector, Ministry of Defence shipbuilding contracts for Scottish yards, Bank of England standing behind our banking sector, and of course, open borders and free movement of goods, people and services.

Yet, the only thing jeopardising all of this is a Yes vote. This is the positive economic case for the Union, and it runs through the White Paper like a golden thread. If Scotland votes No, then we must start using devolved policy power over skills, education, transport, research, innovation and planning to maximise economic benefit from that platform of UK-wide opportunity.

Take renewable energy. No government could have talked this industry up more than the SNP yet Alex Salmond's 100 per cent renewables commitment and promise "reindustrialise" Scotland just three years ago has now stalled.

Only onshore wind developments have proceeded. Investment in Scottish offshore wind remains stalled. Marine and tidal generation has not moved beyond prototype. None of the supply-chain jobs announcements made in cities like Dundee with great First Ministerial fanfare has materialised.

Meanwhile, Cockenzie power station has closed, its gas-fired replacement is shelved, Peterhead is largely mothballed, and Longannet is under threat from new emissions directives. Professor Rebecca Lunn, of Strathclyde University, has identified a 20GWh energy deficit by the middle of the century, even if renewable targets are met. None of this is a surprise - the scientific and engineering community warned the Scottish Government its renewable plans underestimated the challenges of generating electricity in deep water and getting it onshore, and ignored the challenge of baseload generation or storage to back it up.

An engineering professor, a renewables champion, once told us if a student had presented him with the Scottish Government's "renewables route map", he would have failed it.

Yet, the Scottish Government is right about Scotland's renewables potential, for power and jobs. The renewables industry is generating both work and wealth. Above all, that integrated UK energy market ensures our renewables industry benefits from around one-third of the UK subsidies. Post-referendum we should embrace that single market and start making it work for Scotland rather than looking for reasons to complain that it doesn't.

That means admitting that while we can export wind power to England, there will be days when we need the baseload coming north to keep our lights on too. It means working with the UK to change the market mechanisms enough to unblock offshore wind development. Right now, what we see is political ransom demands which threaten to "put the lights out in England".

The time has come to look at how we strategically support this crucial yet fragmented industry. Why not create an "Energy Scotland" which could streamline support for development, planning, and consent for projects as well as research, skills and infrastructure support?

It could bring a new dimension to the Scottish Energy Advisory Board, currently charged with "open and informed engagement" between ministers and the energy industry. Could we not give it some strategic teeth too, with ministers going a little bit further than listening and actually sharing a bit of power too?

With a No vote, September 19 is the day we can stop using renewables and the oil and gas industry as convenient proxies for an independence argument. We can stop boasting about our energy industry and get on with building it on the platform of a UK-wide electricity market and a UK economy which lets us manage volatile oil and gas reserves. Together we really can reindustrialise Scotland through energy, and not just talk about it.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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