So, if I may offer some advice to our new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, who I voted for, it is to focus on the concerns of real people, rather than constitutions. Stick to our agenda of improving lives, and I believe that she will find constitutional questions will look after themselves.
Arguably no Prime Minister has faced such a burden on taking office since 1940. The cost of living crisis is like no other in living memory. Gas and electricity prices are rising almost exponentially, and people cannot keep tightening their belts.
I have no doubt that Prime Minister Truss will come up with a radical plan that will bring the immediate relief that we need to see us through this winter. But if she really wants to put the Nationalists’ gas on a peep it will be more effectively done by addressing the UK’s medium- and long-term energy needs than by any constitutional tinkering.
The Scottish Nationalists don’t have an energy policy to start with. Yes, they have plenty of positions, but no policy. Plenty of press releases but nothing designed to protect the public in times like these. Their priority is to differentiate themselves from Westminster for a news cycle, rather than come to a consensus for the national good in the long term.
We saw where this approach got us with the Census. SNP Ministers decided Scotland had to be different, delayed the census and tens of millions of pounds wasted later we are different from the rest of the UK – we don’t have a credible set of census data.
It is the same in energy. The First Minister’s commitment to renewable energy seems to extend only to repeating the untruth that Scotland gets all of it electricity from renewables. We don’t. We need a mix of renewables, gas and nuclear like the rest of the UK.
The First Minister says she doesn’t like nuclear energy, I suspect because the UK supports it. She made it clear that she would not agree to the life of Hunterston Power Station in Ayrshire being extended and so a safe, efficient plant which had produced enough electricity to power all of Scotland’s homes for more than three decades was allowed to close.
If Scotland is to have true security of supply we need more nuclear power stations, either by renewing the ones we have here or relying on those new builds in the rest of the UK. Supporting nuclear energy is in Scotland’s interests even if it is not in Nicola Sturgeon’s.
To transition successfully through to Net Zero, Scotland, like the rest of the UK, needs a secure supply of affordable gas in the medium term. That means exploring our reserves in the North Sea. That also means the First Minister must reverse her opposition to new gas which, once again, was not a decision taken in the interests of the real people of Scotland. It was taken in the personal political interests of Nicola Sturgeon to make it look like she was taking on Westminster.
The price of the First Minister’s ego, per therm, is now too much for the nation to bear. She must u-turn even if it means she will never get a selfie with Greta again.
Not to do so does not mean that Scotland will stop burning gas. It just means we will do more damage to the environment and our economy by importing gas from abroad at a higher cost.
If Liz Truss delivers on her promises on energy she made during the Tory leadership campaign she will deliver more good for Scotland and the rest of the UK than any photo opportunity that Scotland’s First Minister has contrived in the name of the planet. She will expose the idiocy and hypocrisy of a position on energy from the First Minister which is against Scotland’s interests.
This encapsulates how our new Prime Minister can really take on the SNP’s campaign for yet another referendum. The majority in Scotland, even many of those who want secession, do not want Indyref2. However well meaning, those who suggest that new legal measures are required to prevent another vote, can only give Nationalists fuel to talk about constitutions.
Nationalists do not want to talk about their own record because it is so littered with failure. They cannot talk about the energy crisis without tripping over their own contradictions. A fight over legal powers is exactly what they want and there are far too many other real priorities for real people that demand our national attention.
The cost of living crisis has its origins in global conditions and we will survive best on these islands if we act united, together. In times like these the Nationalist agenda is at best irrelevant, and at worst a costly indulgence this nation cannot afford.
Constitutional crisis is the pitch the Nationalists were born to play on. The rest of us, real people, are dealing with the real crisis on the cost of living.
If Prime Minister Truss takes the action the whole nation needs to get through it, that will show the nationalists to be the irrelevance they are better than any constitutional nicety. And it will reduce Nicola Sturgeon to the role she likes best – commentator not participant.
Murdo Fraser is the Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife