THE deadline has passed and the ScotWind licensing round applications are in. But, important though that staging post is, it is the next step in the process that is the crucial one for the future of Scotland’s energy sector and for the wider prosperity of the country.

Renewable energy is an absolutely essential component of global plans to tackle climate change and invest in sustainability. It is a central pillar of the future planning of international corporations and of the governments of the EU, the UK and Scotland, impinging on almost every other aspect of policy. And it is an area in which Scotland has outstanding natural resources – to the extent that yesterday SSE, the Perth-based company that is the UK and Ireland’s biggest generator of renewable energy, was able to announce that its standard electricity contract for business customers would be entirely drawn from renewables.

Yet, as was the case with oil before these greener, cleaner generators of power, Scotland’s substantial natural advantages have not always translated into a lasting benefit for the country. The previous booms in both onshore and the first generation of offshore wind power could have created – as many expected it would – significant and long-term benefits in Scottish manufacturing and technology.

Instead, the technology, and much of the work and expertise in its construction and maintenance, was largely imported and, once in place, the benefits from these natural resources have been accrued by large power companies and their shareholders.

Although much of the initial funding came directly from UK taxpayers in the form of subsidies, it did not lead to a manufacturing base that might have created thousands of local jobs and built a world-leading industry in a sector crucial to the plans of almost all major countries and corporations, as well as the sustainability and stability of the environment and economy.

Nor were the resulting benefits harnessed – in the manner of Norway’s oil fund, or Iceland’s use of geothermal energy to invest in other parts of its economy – to fund the greening of other industries, innovation in other sectors, or wider social goods such as health, public services or local infrastructure.

EU procurement and national subsidy rules would have made much of that impossible at the time, but such considerations no longer apply. Whatever the current Scottish Government’s antipathy towards Brexit, it would be absurd for it not to seize those advantages that it does offer. That is not an argument for protectionism: investment in offshore wind around the UK is expected to reach £70 billion within the next decade, and multinationals, foreign investors and financial institutions are bound to play a part in any development on this scale.

But when it comes to something that is fundamentally a natural national resource, it is not unreasonable to expect that a substantial part of the returns should benefit the communities that bear the brunt of the disruption that they bring. It is a matter of basic prudence that we should invest in, develop and support industries that build and maintain the technology, and thereby reap the rewards – economic and environmental – that should follow.

For Scotland has, by European standards, an extraordinarily large resource in its territorial waters, and a commensurate expectation of huge gains. If our geography makes wind and wave turbine technology more challenging to install than similar projects in English waters, it also offers higher rewards.

It is crucial, then, that we do not regard this current licensing process as a short-term windfall for the exchequer, supplying a down payment from which others take the spoils, leaving us only bragging rights about our green credentials. Scotland, with its enormous natural advantages in this area, and its unparalleled history of eminence in engineering, invention and manufacturing, must vie for much greater involvement in shaping the technology, creating the jobs, and garnering the rich harvest offered by what will clearly be one of the dominant energy supplies of the near future.