SNP 2030 climate change target dropped: Nationalists have made yet another fine Green mess – Brian Wilson

Scotland needs a completely new, coherent and realistic approach to the path to net-zero carbon emissions

These are tricky times for the SNP’s army of spin doctors. No sooner has bad news been buried than something worse turns up. Black Thursday was a case in point. Before Mairi McAllan, the Cabinet Secretary for lots of things, could announce abandoning the 2030 climate target, she first had to apologise to the Presiding Officer for advance efforts to spin the story into obscurity.

Ms McAllan always sounds like she is reading a script she doesn’t quite understand and hasn’t written. So when she “regretted” the “media speculation” and professed to “take very seriously the integrity of the Parliament”, it carried all the spontaneity of the speaking clock. Amidst the verbiage that followed, the key phrase was that the Scottish Government “will introduce expedited legislation… to ensure that our legislative framework better reflects the reality of long-term climate policymaking”.

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This adjustment, Ms McAllan claimed, equated to “very minor legislative amendments”. Whoever wrote that bit of the script should be in trouble since it exposed Ms McAllan to a response to which I guess she has a particular aversion – ie ridicule. Wishing “world-leading targets” away with “minor legislative amendments” does not quite correlate.

SNP MP ‘ashamed’

If ever there was a case of cynical politicians making rods for their own (or their successors’) backs, this was it. Years of empty sloganising and ‘wha’s like us’ target-setting had just collided with a word which rarely features in the nationalist lexicon: “reality”. But how much time, money and genuine opportunity have been wasted en route?

The SNP MP, Joanna Cherry, tweeted: “I can’t go to bed without saying how ashamed I am by this. It’s a salutary reminder of the need for my party to move on from Sturgeon’s style of government by announcement with no plans for delivery." My only quibble with Ms Cherry’s view is that we should substitute “my party” with “Scotland” since the entire body of devolved government has been blighted by the same disease. Whatever they touched, the grand pronouncements petered out in anti-climax and a pathetic search for someone to blame.

Humza Yousaf and Mairi McAllan, Net-Zero Secretary, share a light-hearted moment at Holyrood (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Humza Yousaf and Mairi McAllan, Net-Zero Secretary, share a light-hearted moment at Holyrood (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Humza Yousaf and Mairi McAllan, Net-Zero Secretary, share a light-hearted moment at Holyrood (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Climate change: Scotland scraps 2030 legal climate target, but sets out policy p...

In so many respects, from poverty alleviation to educational standards to NHS delivery, Scotland has stood still or gone backwards while “Sturgeon’s style of government” prevailed, now under the auspices of her continuity First Minister and the likes of Ms McAllan. The starting point for a strategy heading towards net zero should always have been to take people along with it as part of a genuine crusade towards which there is overwhelming goodwill. Much of that has now been squandered through overblown rhetoric and sheer ineptitude.

Holyrood-Westminster cooperation

As far as renewable energy is concerned, there is no longer point in bemoaning abject failure to deliver the fabled “second industrial revolution” first time round. The challenge is to ensure the ScotWind programme produces a scale of economic, employment and community benefits on which the credibility of a “just transition” depends.

It would help if there was a plan which could be pointed to and a strategy for delivering it. Scotland’s renewable generation capacity is largely dependent on the market further south to consume it. There is no matter on which cooperation between governments is more essential, to deliver outcomes in which both have strong vested interests.

An SNP government will never be capable of engaging in that way since their priority in dealing with a UK Government of any complexion will be to demonstrate what cannot be achieved rather than what can. One only needed to listen to Ms McAllan’s protracted girn to be reminded how deeply ingrained that mentality is.

Otherwise, most of the policy areas in which the Scottish Government has fallen short are fully devolved – and end up in the ditch. To take one very current example, most people want to heat their homes cleanly and cheaply but in seeking that transition, only self-righteous fools decline to take account of affordability or practicality.

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Helping people, not hitting them

So we end up with a set of regulations which have caused dismay over much of Scotland where burning wood is seen as a necessity rather than a punishable offence. Meanwhile, only 1.4 per cent of Scottish households have heat-pumps on which the future supposedly depends.

An alternative approach might be: “Recognise social realities and adapt to them. Help people contribute to shared objectives without hitting them over the head with a green stick." It is all deeply counter-productive and not in the least joined-up.

My particular bête noir is the crazy way in which hundreds of millions of pounds are committed, at a time of scarcity, to tree-planting and “peatland restoration” for extremely dubious environmental benefits. I would like to hear Ms McAllan subjected to detailed interview starting with the question: “Why?”

Her script contained claims about Scotland planting more trees than elsewhere in the UK, which it has been doing for more than 100 years without her assistance. Maybe she should instead have read out the story about half the trees planted by the arch-greenwashers, BrewDog, with the help of £700,000 of public money, dying within a year.

Instead of having the imagination to develop an approach which links community benefit (currently non-existent) to these activities, our great patriots preferred advice from landed interests and the City of London. So they have created a market which subsides speculation and has sent land values soaring in return for hypothetical environmental returns over 100 years, by which time the deal will be long forgotten.

The list of fiascos, current and in the making, goes on and on. If the slate is to be wiped clean, with a target for 2045, then a completely new, coherent and – whisper it – realistic approach is required. Even a whiff of credible political leadership would help, but I know that is too much to ask.



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