Leaders: Fallon is playing a dangerous game

NEXT year our MPs will vote on the future of Trident, and whether to replace it at a cost of £100 billion. The debate is sure to be passionate and divisive, particularly because Scotland has just returned 56 SNP members to Westminster, representing a party that would like to banish nuclear weapons which are sited in this country. Unfortunately for those MPs who might have once believed they would yield significant influence on this matter, the numbers don’t add up. The Conservatives’ overall majority all but guarantees the outcome already.

The debate on Trident is sure to be passionate and divisive. Picture: Getty
The debate on Trident is sure to be passionate and divisive. Picture: Getty

There remains a nervousness within the government around the issue, however, as evidenced by moves to retain a UK veto over the use of Crown Estate land when this responsibility is devolved to Scotland.

The veto is designed to avoid any prospect of the Scottish Government taking control of Crown Estate land – such as coastlines – and then denying use of this land as a Military of Defence base. In effect, the land would be a ransom strip.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

It is a provocative move by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, because the possibility of taking such a course of action has not been raised by the Nationalists. This is not tempered by his language, which talks of denying the SNP the opportunity to “play political games”.

It is not the kind of talk that will do anything but raise hackles and further deepen divides, as shown by the robust response of SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson – attacking the Tories and describing Trident as an “obscenity”.

It is not known if the SNP would have tried to block nuclear weapons through control of Crown Estate territory, and to speculate too heavily on that front would be to risk repeating Mr Fallon’s approach. But it would be fair to make the point that the devolving of Crown Estate territory to the Scottish Government is to increase Holyrood’s responsibilities and in turn put those assets to the best use that will benefit Scottish communities. The purpose is not to give the Scottish Government a bargaining tool with which to influence reserved defence policy, and to use the power in such a way would be an abuse of responsibility.

Despite the SNP’s landslide victory north of the Border in the general election, it would be wrong to interpret this vote as a rejection of Trident, because it was not a single-issue election. If the SNP wishes to remove Trident, it must be done through the front door of democratic process rather than the backdoor of political opportunism.

If a measure is required to close a loophole, go ahead, but the process must be handled sensitively.

There are enough areas where the SNP can be taken to task over its intentions without resorting to the dangerous game of countering threats that have not been made.

A powerful argument for a glass roof

IT IS now decades rather than years since the first sight of glinting panels on a house roof sparked curiosity about why anyone would a glass roof. Wasn’t a glass ceiling bad enough?

Solar panels didn’t take off in a big way despite the prospect of “free” electricity, and their spread has been slow. That pace seems to be picking up now, however, with industry estimates yesterday indicating that solar power was supplying 16 per cent of the UK’s electricity.

That figure may look modest but every step is in the right direction. The solar industry believes the UK can double the amount of solar power generated in the next few years, and that ambitious target would be a welcome boost to green targets.

But the industry does need help. It is claimed that solar energy is the UK’s most popular form of energy, with more than 80 per cent public support. That support, impressive though it may be, is a long way from translating into take-up.

And it should be acknowledged that solar farms have played a big part in pushing up the numbers in recent years, as have subsidies.

The benefits for the individual consumer who wants to fit solar panels to their house are obvious, in the form of lower bills and a contribution to the greater good of climate change through the use of low-carbon energy. What’s not to like?

There are problems too, such as intermittent power supply and how to store the energy most efficiently, but with the right technology, strategy and drive, the solar power campaign could be pushing at an open door.