I MADE a rare return to a former place of employment this week for an event about renewable energy developments in the Celtic Sea, a marine area bounded by coastlines of Ireland, south Wales and Cornwall. Politically, it was like stepping into another world in which politicians are capable of working together.

The Secretary of State for Wales, the Labour administration in Cardiff, the Irish Ambassador, MPs of all parties, local authorities, private sector, the Crown Estate … everyone in the room was on the same side, fired up by the challenge of uniting the three entities into a single leader in floating offshore wind, from a standing start.

There was no need for disagreement about what has to be done – build a supply chain, invest in ports, co-ordinate rather than compete over critical issues like grid connections, make it all happen and seize an opportunity which involves no ideological differences, and can deliver a great deal of benefit.

It was slightly galling to hear a speaker from the Welsh renewables sector quoting Scotland’s onshore wind experience as a warning against what must not be allowed to happen – ie importation of virtually all the hardware. Unfortunately, it is the truth which will be repeated unless, here too, the necessary pre-emptive measures are taken. Unity of purpose seemed a pretty good starting point.

Sadly, it was impossible to imagine a similar gathering in Scotland – about anything. We are trapped in the politics of difference and, make no mistake, there is a price being paid. There are vast opportunities over the coming decades through offshore wind alone. But where is the co-ordination? Where is the plan? Where is the shared ambition, political and constitutional disagreements set aside?

The Celtic Sea is not alone in this team approach. It has been developing for years in the north-east of England and that is where inward investment – which Scotland used to be so good at securing – is currently going. There are now three major turbine manufacturers committed to the UK, creating thousands of jobs and none of them in Scotland. Where did it all go wrong?

I would be delighted to be proved wrong. So why do the Scottish and UK Governments not jointly organise a similar event at which there is a frank appraisal of where we stand in taking advantage of the forthcoming Scotwind programme, a clear statement of the infrastructural requirements to take it forward, a joint approach to funding and the creation of a cross-party, cross-government group to take all this forward. Impossible? I thought so.

My frustration with this crippling impasse was heightened by a debate at Holyrood about post-Brexit “levelling-up” funds which the UK Government is establishing to replace EU structural funds. It is basic common sense that both governments have a shared interest in ensuring these are utilised strategically and to best advantage – not least to foster the net zero agenda.

Instead, this has become another puerile battleground over powers and process. For years, the SNP has been pushing the “power grab” argument, which covers anything that falls short of handing them another very large tranche of money to do what they like with. It has all along been a bogus grievance since the UK Government, just like the EU Commission in the past, has a legitimate role in the strategic use of these funds, rather than seeing the money re-branded as Scottish Government largesse for their own preferred purposes.

Eventually, the Tories got fed up with this nonsense and decided to deal direct with councils. Unsurprisingly, they are now queuing up for cash which will go some way towards compensating for the massive cuts, particularly in capital budgets, to which they have been subjected. To Tory delight, SNP-run councils have been at the front of the queue, rightly more concerned about funding their own favoured projects than with the theology of “power grabs”.

However, this approach doesn’t fit the bill either. Structural funds should not just be about individual projects. They should be directed coherently at areas of greatest need and the creation of conditions which bring improvement over a period of time – real “levelling-up”. Regional infrastructure, skills training and the like are not best conducted on a council-by-council basis. But equally, the insistence they must be centralised under pan-Scotland control is political rather than rational.

No area benefited more from the old EU Structural Funds than the Highlands and Islands and it is worth recalling why this happened. Successive UK Governments fought to obtain and retain Objective One status for the area. There was a regional partnership which included, but was not exclusive to, local authorities. One of the SNP’s first actions in government was to close this and similar partnerships down, so that everything could be re-branded in Edinburgh.

EU funds were used strategically and to great effect under both Tory and Labour governments. It is a fallacy to pretend that nothing can be achieved if there is a government at Westminster that most of us do not like. We need to live in the world as it is rather than as we might wish it to be which means co-operation where it clearly makes sense, rather than the constant search for conflict.

Make no mistake, that approach is costing Scotland dear on many fronts. Other parts of the UK, never mind the world, are pressing ahead while we are fighting our own interminable, internal battles.

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