Renewables can power economy of an independent Scotland - Lorna Slater

This week I had the opportunity to introduce myself to voters by taking part in the BBC leaders’ debate. Of course, Anas Sarwar and Douglas Ross have led their parties for a shorter time than I have, and for all three of us it was our first leader’s debate.

Scotland has the potential to provide 25 per cent of Europe’s renewable energy

But being someone relatively unknown to the voters meant I knew I had to make an impression and get across the positive plans for Scotland’s future that the Scottish Greens have.

As you might imagine, I was nervous, but it was comforting to see that other leaders were too. It was, after all, the first big set piece of the election. As always with these things you come away wishing you had had the opportunity to make a point on one topic or another that you don’t feel was adequately covered.

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Far too much of the night was taken up with the unionist parties talking about how Scotland shouldn’t have a say over our future.

It’s absolutely correct to recognise that the pandemic is the context of this election and the recovery should be the pressing priority for us all, but you cannot say you want to end division if all you want to talk about is refusing people a say over what that recovery should look like, what it should build towards.

As I made clear in the debate, the Scottish Greens will work with any party to make a difference for the people of Scotland. By negotiating with the SNP on their budgets we won free bus travel for everyone 21 and under from this year, free school dinners for all primary kids and pandemic relief payments for half a million households worst hit by the pandemic.

And it was the support of other opposition parties that helped us force the government to restore 124,565 exam grades unfairly marked down during COVID by the SQA. We got the backing from the other parties for our safer schools plans which the government then adopted.

As we try and recover from this crisis and face up to the even bigger crisis of the climate emergency, one which is just as life-threatening, we need to be able to work together.

What worries me is that although the other party leaders in the debate recognised the urgency of the climate crisis, none of them recognised what needs to be done as a result.

Douglas Ross even tried to claim that investing more money in oil and gas exploration was investing in net-zero. That is a completely farcical position. It’s never been more urgent to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

It was particularly frustrating that we ran out of time before I could refute the ridiculous allegation that the Greens want to let down those who work in the North East, or that we would repeat what happened to BiFab in Fife. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That oil and gas are finite resources is a fact, and that it must stay in the ground is essential to our survival. Workers need certainty and alternative jobs, not to be left on a sinking ship. Scotland has seen too often how communities are left behind when Government’s don’t invest in their future – look at Ravenscraig, the Fife mining communities, Silicone Glen and most recently when Longannet coal power station shut down.

We shouldn’t be repeating Thatcher’s mistakes. Governments have a responsibility to invest in the future of communities before they are left on the scrapheap, and that includes all the communities that rely on fossil fuel giants, like Grangemouth, Mossmorran, Aberdeen and others.

A survey of oil and gas workers by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace found that a transition is what they actually want, too, with as much as 82 per cent open to moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry.

This is the core weakness in the argument we’ve heard from the Tories, SNP, Lib Dems and Labour. They use the word transition without any willingness to transition the subsidies. It isn’t a ‘transition’ if you keep throwing money at a sunset industry until it closes.

This notion of a 'demand-led' reduction, which Willie Rennie highlighted in his interview with BBC, has been totally disproved already. As long as oil and gas is kept cheap through subsidy, there will always be demand. That's how the market works. We need to wean the market off the subsidies to allow alternatives a fair shot at competing.

Oil and gas companies are not the victims here, they've lobbied relentlessly since the 1970s for increased subsidies, even while knowing full well that they were causing damage to the planet. If giving them money was the solution, the problem would have been solved.

So this is not about suddenly ‘turning off the tap’, but about taking that money and investing in the alternative jobs now, before it’s too late.

As someone who actually works in one of those alternative industries, I was obviously itching to get this point in during the debate.

It doesn’t have to be like BiFab, where the SNP failed to keep jobs in Scotland. We need to see a government take a much greater stake in renewable energy, and invest directly in our future.

While Nicola Sturgeon was right to point out in the debate that 97 per cent of our electricity came from renewables last year, Scotland’s potential is so much greater.

Thanks in part to the sector I work in, tidal, Scotland has the potential to provide 25 per cent of Europe’s renewable energy. So it can do more than keep our lights on, it can be a major driver in the economy of an independent Scotland.

This is what I mean by a triple win. We can recover from the pandemic by creating jobs, we can start the transition from oil and gas now to ensure we survive as a species, and we can create an economy that allows Scotland to flourish as an independent nation.

The first step is that recovery though, and this election is about deciding what we invest in to grow that. Only the Scottish Greens have the solutions to ensure a green recovery, one that tackles the climate crisis head-on. The time is now for green solutions. Our future depends on it.

Lorna Slater is co-leader of the Scottish Greens