If the Scottish Conservatives offered a different policy on wind turbines it could bring many affected voters to the party, writes Brian Monteith
It WAS a cold wet March night in St Andrews last Thursday. Nothing unusual in that, except that 350 people had crammed into the town hall with standing room only while some 40 or so were left outside as a meeting heard why proposals for a nearby offshore wind farm will be a blight on one of Scotland’s tourism gems.
Few political meetings draw such numbers of ordinary people these days but the growing realisation of how Scottish Government plans for thousands of giant turbines across the land and off our coast threatens Scotland’s natural beauty, puts at risk the livelihoods of whole communities and transfers wealth from the masses to a few is motivating people like no other current issue.
Organised by Cameron Community Council and titled “Is wind the answer?” the meeting included Derek Birkett, a former grid control engineer, Dave Bruce, author of Views of Scotland, John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland and Struan Stevenson MEP, chairman of the Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development Intergroup in the European parliament. All voiced their opposition to the SNP’s plans from their different but well-informed perspectives.
The issue is not just about St Andrews, nor was it a gathering for middle-class, protect what’s mine nimbys concerned only for themselves and wanting to put a spanner in the works. Even fishermen from Ullapool journeyed south to tell of their own concerns about a similar proposal that will endanger their fishing grounds as all around Scotland hackles are rising about proposals for more wind turbines.
St Andrews was just one of many meetings that have started taking place across Scotland – and no wonder. Planning applications already exist for windfarms overlooking Loch Ness, on either side of Loch Lomond, behind Culzean Castle and next to the Cairngorms National Park.
As Stevenson told the audience, there are plans to erect a huge turbine that will be visible from the championship course at Turnberry echoing the proposals to erect a windfarm near the Old Course in St Andrews, while Donald Trump has halted his £750 million golf development at Menie in Aberdeenshire because of a proposal to allow 11 industrial turbines, each 64 storeys high, to be constructed in the sea just a mile and a half from his proposed luxury hotel.
Just because Donald Trump is rich, outspoken and willing to challenge the First Minister does not make him wrong. It was not that long ago Alex Salmond was courting his investment in Scotland; there was nothing wrong with his views or his money then.
A few hecklers in St Andrews claimed it was only wealthy, middle class Scots who were opposed to “free wind”, but as Stevenson pointed out, the rising fuel bills that feed the massive subsidies going to wind farms have driven over 800,000 Scottish households into fuel poverty. If the plans for offshore wind are realised those bills are going to get even dearer and the numbers in fuel poverty will only rise. It is the poor customer who pays for the uneconomic wind turbines and makes possible the greatest transfer of money from the poor to the rich (from electricity consumers to energy companies and wealthy landowners) that Scotland has ever seen.
Claims and counter claims about energy efficiency and cost can be bandied about but the truth that turbines would simply not be built without the transfer of huge subsidies is beyond challenge. And if land-based turbines are expensive and uneconomic then those being built offshore are more so, being bigger, requiring greater foundations and having to survive in a more inhospitable environment.
At the moment the opposition to windmillery has no political voice. Individuals such as Stevenson have been instrumental in helping encourage and bring together disparate groups to form Communities Against Turbines Scotland but there is no party at Holyrood or Westminster that has made it its policy to halt the drive for wind turbines – and there lies an opportunity.
Could it be the moment for Ruth Davidson to show she is not the puppet of David Cameron by adopting a policy at odds with his government? Could this be an issue that would at last bring large numbers of voters to the Scottish Conservatives, delivering people that have never had reason before to support them?
Opponents can forget about the SNP, Alex Salmond’s government is clearly wedded to wind turbines in its rush to deliver the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020.
Opponents can hardly expect a sympathetic hearing from Labour and the Liberal Democrats either. Both have supported wind turbines in the past and when in government together at Holyrood sanctioned many of the schemes that are only beginning to appear now.
The Scottish Conservatives could offer a clear policy alternative and make a point of remonstrating with Cameron’s government, appealing for economic sanity, siding with the poor consumer and defending the natural beauty of Scotland’s landscape and views.
If Ruth Davidson were to speak on the subject at this year’s Tory gathering she could become the darling of the party conference overnight. She could call on the Prime Minister to keep his fervour for green energy but downgrade the subsidies to turbines just as it did for solar power.
Immediately many of the proposed schemes would be withdrawn as not worth the candle, electricity bills could be pegged or even reduced and Ruth Davidson could take the credit in Scotland for challenging Alex Salmond’s hare-brained scheme and winning.
Wind farm opponents need a political voice. Is Ruth Davidson ready to clear her throat?
• Brian Monteith is policy director of ThinkScotland.org