Leaders: No need for national debate on wind farms

Scottish wind farm at Blacklaw. Picture: TSPL
Scottish wind farm at Blacklaw. Picture: TSPL
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ACCORDING to new figures on renewable energy, Scotland now houses more than half of all UK onshore wind turbines. Is this a cause for celebration, or lamentation?

The question arises because it is at the heart of an unresolved clash of public interest and opinion, both of which claim green credentials. On the one side, those who believe that global climate change is man-made and a serious threat argue that reliance on fossil fuels to produce the energy that modern society needs has to be reduced and eventually eliminated, which means a switch to renewable sources, such as wind power.

But on the other hand, another body of opinion, which may or may not be sceptical about man-made climate change, contends that wind farms are an unacceptable intrusion into the visual landscape. In remote areas especially, to which city-dwellers escape for a break from work stresses, wind turbines look like nasty alien intrusions.

This argument gets fought out over virtually every wind farm planning application. But now Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser has attempted to move it from being a series of local controversies to a matter of national concern. According to him, Scotland “suffers” from being home to more than half of Britain’s onshore wind turbines.

His contention is surely absurd. It might have some validity if some remote autocracy was decreeing the construction of wind farms regardless of local opinion. But every application is subject to due planning and democratic process. Opponents of wind farms may not like the outcomes of this process, but that does not invalidate the fact that it is open and properly conducted.

It may have escaped Mr Fraser’s attention, but industries which make use of a natural resource tend to congregate where it is located. The extraction of North Sea oil is a case in point. And it is a fact that the further north you go in the British Isles, the more wind and the more land suitable for wind farms there is. Thus it would be absurd if Scotland did not have a preponderance of Britain’s wind farms.

Above all, there is, surely, little doubt that renewable energy is the future. There is a long way to go before issues such as storage of wind power when it is being produced but is not needed are resolved. Other technologies, such as wave and tidal power, may yet lead to renewable energy production becoming more predictable.

But for the moment, onshore wind is making a useful contribution to maintaining a diverse energy mix. Scotland should be at the forefront of developing renewable energy, for it will be an increasingly important part of the economy and a useful export for us.

And to be at that frontier, Scotland needs to be a place where the pioneers feel welcomed. That may involve some sacrifices which may be regrettable, but in the long term, the gains should massively outweigh them.

Listen to the teachers, Mr Russell

Evidence that all is not at all well with the new examinations coming in with the Curriculum for Excellence keeps on piling up. The argument is not that the curriculum itself is fundamentally flawed, but that the timetable for its introduction is unrealistic to the point of provoking a crisis.

Yesterday Mike Russell, the education secretary, heard very directly and publicly about the concerns at a fringe meeting at the SNP conference in Aberdeen organised by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.

He heard that there is still huge confusion about the replacement for Standard Grade exams which starts at the end of the month and for the new Higher exams due next summer. The confusion is so great that about half of

the schools which have taken decisions about when to introduce the Highers replacement have decided to delay them for a year.

Teachers’ confidence about the exams is critical to successful implementation. If they cannot be confident, either that they have prepared their pupils for them or that the results of exams are a reliable guide to pupils’ achievements, why should pupils and their parents, or employers and universities, have any confidence in them either?

Terming this an “attack” on school students, as Mike Corbett, the union’s president did, implying malicious intent, goes too far. Mr Russell deserves some credit for having listened to previously voiced concerns and responding to them with additional resources. He cannot, however, regard that as sufficient. The education secretary has to go on listening and to continue taking further action to meet the concerns that have been raised.