The Feet Inside The Boots On The Ground

Craig Dalzell asks why Scotland’s Green New Deal is being left to the private sector when the Scottish Government has already been instructed by members and voters to ensure that it is publicly owned.

This week saw the launch of two things that should be and have certainly been touted as steps towards getting on with our Scottish Green New Deal. Beneath the headlines though, we say that they are both still the smallest of chips taken out of the problem.

Scottish Power have announced 135 jobs in the renewable sector in Scotland and this is certainly not a bad thing but it leaves me once again wondering why the Scottish Government are leaving the Green New Deal to the private sector despite promises (and, indeed, instruction from SNP members) to set up a national energy company and associated public-owned infrastructure.

Though Scottish Power is a privately owned subsidiary, its parent company Iberdrola is owned by a variety of institutions including nationally owned Norges Bank. This means that, indirectly, the Norwegian public own more of Scottish Power than the Scottish public do. The argument for domestic, public-owned vs foreign, private-owned needn’t come from selfish “Me First” Nationalism. Private companies are profit-seeking entities and in this case that means that the profits they generate from Scottish customers will be extracted from Scotland The and ultimately, through those indirect ownerships, end up benefiting the public purse of the countries of the nationalised owners of the company (as well as the private owners such as their reported largest shareholder Qatar Investment Holding). This means that government investment via public-owned companies results in the return from that investment being recycled in Scotland and driving future investment.

In the absence of a national energy strategy, Scottish Power will continue to do its own thing – which includes trying to capture people who currently use gas and oil for home heating by heavily lobbying for their boilers to be replaced with air source heat pumps. Note the lack of any mention in that leaflet of improving the insulation thus reducing the energy demand of the homes involved.

The energy companies obviously love this plan compared to more effective but more infrastructure-dependent plans such as district heating as they stand to make a lot of money by locking gas customers into electricity prices as well as making them pay for most or all of the retrofitting costs. The government loves it because it means that they don’t need to invest more money than it takes to drive the First Minister to launch events. People who want to live in warm, zero-carbon homes without paying through the nose for them apparently get little say in the matter.

A much more fundamental issue here is the scale of the expansion. 135 jobs is a drop in the (rapidly-rising) ocean if we want to be serious about tackling the climate emergency. We’ve estimated that the job potential for the whole Green New Deal (of which the issue of retrofitting out energy sector makes up a substantial if not the largest part) could create something in the region of 40,000 new jobs. In this regard, the Green New Deal is much less a problem of creating boots on the ground but finding the people with the right feet to fill those boots.

But changing the entire economy – especially closing down the oil industry and redirecting our energy efforts into renewables – must be done in a manner that doesn’t leave people and communities behind in the same way that the demise of the coal industry or the mass deindustrialisation of Scotland through the 1980s and 1990s did (leading to cycles of deprivation, poverty and impacts that persist to this day). This “Just Transition” will be a natural move for many – Friends of the Earth estimate that more than two thirds of jobs currently in the offshore oil sector have at least a partial skills overlap with jobs in the offshore renewables sector. But for many other it will require training or re-training as well as an identified job to move to. That job needs to start on a mass scale and at various levels (from re-training senior engineers all the way down to education in our schools). It also needs to be managed as part of both supply and demand. There’s no use training people for jobs that don’t exist without also investing in those jobs so that they do.

This is why headlines of a “Green Jobs Workforce Academy” that neither provides jobs nor academic training (but merely points at other already extant sources of those things) isn’t really the kind of manifestly transformative agenda that we really need to ramp up our efforts to combat the climate emergency.

Normally at this point in an article of this kind I’d point people at Common Weal’s policy library and say something like “If only the SNP could adopt some of our policies on this”. The thing is here, they already have. We have a comprehensive plan for the energy transformation. A National Energy Company to own and build energy resources and supply electricity and heat to customers; an Energy Development Agency to strategically plan and develop the next tranche of energy infrastructure; a National Infrastructure Company to train workers and take on contracts to build the infrastructure whilst also transitioning and developing the supply chain to support those jobs and a National Investment Bank to fund the whole thing.

Every single one of those policies has been adopted by overwhelming support from members and so far only one, the Investment Bank, has been actually set up (and in its current state lacks both the power and the funding to do the job properly).

In the Policy Podcast last week we spoke about how there can sometimes be a frustrating gap between party and government policy but even that shouldn’t apply here as all of the agencies above have made it onto election manifestos as well.

The Scottish Government knows what it needs to do to create a Green New Deal, has been instructed to do it by both party members and voters. Whether it finds itself in a not-quite-coalition with the Greens (who also support each of the above agencies) next week or not, there really is no excuse for the meagre efforts being touted this week as major successes. As I said in my newsletter article last week, climate delayers are now the biggest threat to our continued survival. We need to see those who know what they need to do step up and actually do it.

Craig Dalzell

1 thought on “The Feet Inside The Boots On The Ground”

  1. No mention here of Cambo…nor really of why the SNP/Scottish Government is dragging its feet (as on so much else) and showing pusillanimity in the face of the blindingly obvious need to move faster and, critically, share the fruits (and pain) of the transition in an equitable manner

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