Ministers only 'aware' wind energy statistic was false last week despite civil service concerns in 2020

Greens co-leader Lorna Slater has claimed ministers only became aware an oft-repeated claim around Scotland’s offshore wind potential was false on the day it was asked to comment on a report by a pro-union think-tank.

The report, undertaken by These Islands, demonstrated the claim Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential was incorrect, with ministers admitting it was wrong and required updating.

In answers to a topical question from Scottish Tory net-zero spokesperson Liam Kerr, the minister for green skills, circular economy, and biodiversity, Ms Slater, claimed ministers only became aware it was wrong on November 8 – the day before the report was published.

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The false claim has been repeated by senior Scottish Government and SNP figures for years, and appears in UK Government official documents in 2013. The UK Government has been asked where it sourced the figure.

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However, the credibility of the claim ministers were unaware the figure was wrong is stretched by internal discussions by civil servants.

In October 2020, two years ago, officials said the Government “tend not to use this [the 25 per cent claim] anymore” because “it has proved very difficult to source”. Another adds, just 11 days later, the estimate has “never, to my knowledge, been properly sourced”.

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In January last year, the Government admitted the figure was out of date, stating in an Freedom of Information response the claim is “dated, but often used”. Another official said they had been recycled “quite robotically without really checking them”.

This means either civil servants continued to recommend the use of the figure in official briefings for ministers knowing, but choosing not to tell politicians, the figure was poorly sourced and out of date, or ministers did know of the concerns, but decided to continue using the figure.

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Offshore wind is a huge potential market for Scotland, but the Scottish Government has admitted its estimate of the potential resource compared to Europe was wrong.

Ministers may claim they only were made aware it was wrong when that report was provided to the Government to respond to. But that suggests a total failure of the civil service in highlighting when incorrect or unreliable figures are used.

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Ms Slater told MSPs work was ongoing to update the figure. She said Parliament would be updated once that work was done. Any “legacy documents” may then be updated to reflect the correct figure. However, Ms Slater also claimed “Scottish ministers understood that the statistic was accurate at the time that they cited it”, suggesting groundwork to demonstrate there was no minister knowingly misleading the Parliament.

This, as Mr Kerr referenced, would see ministers “expected to offer their resignation”.

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A UK Government spokesperson said: "This figure appears to have been used in error. The UK Government's definitive analysis of Scotland and UK energy during this period does not use it."

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