Scotland's renewable energy scandal: Replacement of wind farm workers with cheap overseas labour is worse than P&O – Kenny MacAskill

Having written extensively about the absurdity of energy-rich Scotland yet fuel-poor Scots, I thought I’d seen it all.

Scotland's offshore wind energy is a vast natural resource that should be providing jobs and a boost to the economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Scotland's offshore wind energy is a vast natural resource that should be providing jobs and a boost to the economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But an email from a concerned Scottish worker showed that not only are we losing out on the exploitation of the huge natural asset of wind energy, but our workers are being exploited. This sorry tale encapsulates the absurdity of giving away our offshore bounty and the perversity of what’s happening to our workers.

Neart na Gaoithe is an offshore wind farm in the Firth of Forth about seven miles from Fife. The energy it produces will come ashore near Torness in East Lothian, less than 20 miles away. It’ll have 54 turbines and produce enough energy to power around 375,000 homes. All good you’d think. Renewable energy, a natural bounty and a win-win for Scots and Scotland. What could possibly go wrong?

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Ownership of the field is with a consortium made up of two state energy providers. Profits though won’t be going to either Edinburgh or London, as the owners are EDF and ESB. Those acronyms mask the French state power company and the state electricity company for the Republic of Ireland respectively.

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What an absurdity. The bounty’s off our shores and not even way out at sea but within sight of land. But seeing the turbines turn won’t pay the bills for fuel-poor Scots in Fife or my own constituency of East Lothian and nor will our nation collectively gain. Tory privatisation and the SNP failure to establish a state energy company, instead see other nations, both large and small, benefit at our expense.

So, no profits but what about the jobs? We’ve been told that’ll be the big win. Perfect you might think for Fife with BiFab lying idle just along the coast. But the turbines are being constructed by Siemens in Hull. They’ll be assembled at Dundee, but the big contracts and high wages are in construction, not assembly.

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Other contracts have likewise gone abroad from the turbine foundations and their transportation to the cabling. Spanish, Italian, Belgian and Norwegian companies have won out but where are local, let alone Scottish, businesses? We were promised by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes that we’d win big in the supply chain. Maybe she’d like to identify just where that applies here? For sure, once up and running, Eyemouth will be the base for maintenance. But jobs will be limited and the nature of the work likewise restricted.

In the interim, let me return to the sorry tale of my Scottish worker. He was on a ship, the Normand Navigator, operated by Solstad Offshore and working on the wind-farm site. It’s not far from shore, as we’ve seen, and offered an opportunity to be closer to home.

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But he and 35 of his colleagues have now had their contracts terminated, not because work has ceased as it’s still early days for the project. Instead they are to be replaced by cheaper South Asian labour. Due to length of service, they’re receiving the princely sum of three days’ pay. Many others in the sector are also threatened.

P&O was disgraceful, but this is worse. Our nation’s resource is being robbed and our workers exploited.

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Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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