SOME of the more seductive offerings of the Yes movement have been constructed around Scotland’s status as a world leader in the renewable energy sector. Scotland’s felicitous climate and geography are key factors in our ability to harness and exploit a limitless bounty bequeathed to us by nature. The numbers involved are startling and mostly beyond dispute and they convey the hope that in an independent Scotland they can form a cornerstone of our future economy.

In 2017 our country had a record year for creating eco-friendly energy with more than two-thirds of electricity having been produced from green schemes – an increase of 26 per cent on the year before. According to the Scottish Government this was 45 percent higher than that produced by the rest of the UK. The picture of Scotland as a renewable Xanadu was enhanced further by 34% and 9% increases in wind generation and hydro respectively. We have thus become one of the world’s top countries for providing electricity from non-fossil fuel sources. We produce 25% of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind resource along the biggest coastline of any other country in the British Isles.

Extravagantly optimistic job projections claims in this arena ought to be treated with caution. The opportunity to build a robust and sustainable economy around these figures is undeniable but Scotland has a patchy history in this area owing to questionable employment practices and recent European legislation.

There are also some uncomfortable and inconvenient questions to be faced about Britain’s previous relationship with the EU and the degree to which trade union protections of workers have been stealthily eroded in this sector. According to one senior Scottish trade union official I spoke with this week – and this is a view shared by many of his colleagues in the movement – Scotland has become “a bit-part player in our own market and one that’s been dominated by state-subsidised European energy companies and Far East finance”.

Many of these factors were evident in the lamentable returns Scottish workers gained from the manufacturing work on the Beatrice Project in the Moray Firth. It remains to be seen if something similar will happen on the Moray East Wind Farm Project. This is worth £2.6 billion, encompassed 100 turbines and is expected to generate enough electricity to power over 900,000 homes. On Beatrice, Burntisland Fabrication were supplying only a third of wind turbine jackets and were forced to sack hundreds of workers before receiving a £15m Scottish Government bail-out after it encountered difficulties with one sub-contractor.

Ownership of the Moray East wind-farm project was split across companies originating in Portugal, Spain, Japan, France and China. The turbines themselves will be built and delivered by Siemens (German) and Vestas (Denmark) while the cabling will be provided by an assortment of firms including Boskalis from the Netherlands. The contracts for the manufacture of the turbine jackets have been awarded to Lamprell, based in the United Arab Emirates and Smelders in Belgium. Unions and industry figures were particularly incensed about the Lamprell contract award. The company ran at a loss on previous UK windfarm projects but the tax and employment advantages they have along with the sovereign wealth fund investment worked in their favour.

The Green energy twins to offshore renewable projects in Scotland have been the publicly-funded biomass plants popping up across Scotland, among which the one at Dundee is typical.

The city will lose more than 1,000 jobs next year with cuts at Michelin and local building firm McGills which went into administration earlier this month. The GMB Union believes that a logical argument for the diversification of those workers would be into construction and trades and thus deliver the vital Energy for Waste project at Baldovie.

A distressing factor underpinning this generic fragility in offshore and onshore energy projects presents some ethical dilemmas for the left. The steady erosion of trade union influence has seen previously negotiated industry minimums swept aside by under-cutting. In the case of Dundee it means there is little chance of those lost jobs being transferred. This practice became enshrined in EU law in 2007 and effectively permits firms to pay wages to foreign workers at the reduced rates of their countries of origin. It arose from the landmark Viking and Laval cases. In Laval, 14 Latvian construction workers hired by a Swedish firm could be paid around 40% less than the nationally agreed rates in the Swedish construction industry. A similar situation arose from a Finnish ferry firm flying a flag of convenience to circumnavigate national agreements in Finland.

The ramifications have been as profound as Taff Vale in 1901, when it was ruled that trade unions could be liable for a company’s losses arising from strike action. Gordon Brown was foolish and clumsy when he talked about British jobs for British workers. Since then, though, the British left has been sleep-walking as the hard right Brexiteers have exploited unhappiness in working class communities where sustainable wages have been undercut in this way. It’s simplistic and lazy to dismiss those working class people who voted to leave the EU as racist or anti-immigrant. The Viking and Laval rulings should have been a red flag for the Labour Party of how real racists might exploit fears in some communities over the next decade.

In Scotland over the last few years we have witnessed a chain of industrial disputes with under-cutting at their source occurring at Polmadie in Glasgow (the sub contractor was sacked in 2016 and the agency workers walked out); at Dunbar and Millerhill. These occur where large public sector contracts are awarded to overseas firms who then sub-divide and sub-contract the work into tiny and barely-sustainable packages for smaller Scottish firms. Trade unions are locked out and treated with disdain simply for seeking to protect real wages and humane conditions.

Recent high-profile disputes in Scotland are portrayed in simplistic ways: Scottish Government and Cosla struggling under UK austerity to make the numbers work; unreasonable trade unions being pig-headed. Usually, the unions are seeking to defend their lowest-paid members from wage cuts and seeking to ensure a livelihood sufficient to sustain a family.

A class of trouser-press philanthropists has emerged in Scotland in the last 20 years which gets a fit of the vapours over the defence industry or old sources of energy. It’s time for them to get real because real jobs are at stake.