Manifesto Check: SNP is full of energy, but gives and takes on climate change

The SNP wants Westminster to learn from them. Danny Lawson/PA

In government at Holyrood, the Scottish National Party has set ambitious targets for renewable energy, and the spectacular expansion of onshore and offshore wind in Scotland since the SNP came to power in 2007 certainly supports the party’s capacity to deliver. In 2014, renewables achieved a 49.6% share of Scottish gross electricity production, just 0.4% short of the SNP’s 2015 target of 50%.

But the SNP’s manifesto goes a crucial step further, promising that the party will use its influence at Westminster “to ensure the UK matches, and supports, Scotland’s ambitious commitments to carbon reduction”, namely 30% of energy from renewables by 2020, and 100% of electricity. And the SNP isn’t shy about the policy reforms it would seek:

  • Changes to the UK’s Contracts for Difference price mechanism for renewables so that it prioritises Scottish projects and encourages the manufacturing of renewables, as well as the generation of renewable energy.

  • Reform of transmission arrangements to prevent remote Scottish communities and renewables from being penalised by their distance from UK energy markets.

This doubtlessly reflects frustrations over delays in constructing the Shetland interconnector – an under-sea high-voltage cable – needed to bring Shetland’s 103-turbine Viking wind farm into operation.

Other aspects of the Scottish government’s track record also suggest that the rest of the UK could learn from the SNP on renewables. One of its most applauded schemes is its streamlined system for consenting to offshore renewables developments, which compares favourably with the more unwieldy English and Welsh licensing systems. The SNP further demonstrates its environmental credentials by maintaining its opposition to fracking and its support for onshore wind, and calling for greater assistance for hydro power.

So far so good, but the SNP also proposes to “keep the pressure on the UK Treasury to do all it can to protect jobs and investment in the oil and gas industry”, which means continued oil and gas extraction and greenhouse gases. The SNP gives with one hand, but to an extent, it takes with the other.

As for the rest, the SNP is pledging to reduce energy bills by funding Ofgem’s Energy Company Obligation from general taxes. But while this might be good politics, given the general public’s sensitivity toward energy prices, it may limit action on energy efficiency, by making it subject to budget constraints.

It also promises to create new powers to force energy companies to pass on savings to consumers, provide greater support for community energy, and establish a UK Climate Justice Fund to help communities in developing countries adapt to climate change.

However, while there’s little doubting the SNP’s convictions and leadership within Scotland, whether it can achieve comparable successes at Westminster depends on whether Labour needs the SNP for a majority in parliament. Controversy has already flared around giving a pro-independence party a major say over UK policy. The manifesto stresses that this election is about strengthening Scotland, not independence – but it’s an act of faith to believe that the two agendas can remain disentangled. The other parties might well prefer to take the lessons, but not the teacher – unless they can’t avoid it.

The Conversation’s Manifesto Check deploys academic expertise to scrutinise the parties’ plans.

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