MSPs vote No to new nuclear stations

THE Scottish Parliament voted narrowly last night to block any new nuclear power stations north of the Border – as Alex Salmond was warned that his legacy might be the "lights going out" across Scotland.

MSPs voted by 63 to 58 to reject nuclear power, exactly a week after Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, committed the UK government to a new generation of such stations.

The Holyrood vote was hailed by SNP ministers as signalling a clean, bright future for Scottish energy.

Jim Mather, the energy minister, said: "This vote transforms the terms of the energy debate in Scotland – we now have a parliament and government able and willing to take forward Scotland's clean, green energy future. Scotland's energy future is bright."

But Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, told the First Minister he was making a mistake by ruling out new nuclear power stations, a decision that could lead to black-outs across Scotland.

An alliance of the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens was enough to see the policy through, with the Tories and Labour voting to retain nuclear energy.

The vote will give the Scottish Government solid parliamentary backing for its opposition to nuclear power stations and will mean Scotland and England pursuing completely different paths in electricity generation for the foreseeable future.

Energy policy is reserved to Westminster, but Holyrood has control over planning policy, so can veto any applications for new nuclear plants.

Mr Salmond has made it clear he will do just that, an approach that is likely to dissuade energy companies from coming forward with applications.

However, last night's parliamentary victory for Mr Salmond was tarnished by stinging criticism from his opponents, with Miss Goldie warning him that his legacy might be "the lights going out" over Scotland.

Miss Goldie referred in First Minister's Questions to a recent YouGov poll that showed 70 per cent of Scots were in favour of a mix of energy sources, including nuclear. She then quoted John Swinney, the finance secretary, who last week stated Scotland did not need nor want nuclear power.

She challenged Mr Salmond: "Will the First Minister admit his favourite pollster got it right, his favourite minister got it wrong?"

Miss Goldie went on: "The bottom line for Scotland is we are currently relying on over half of our energy production coming from finite and diminishing fossil fuel sources.

"So, yes, let's grow our renewables, but let's not risk the lights going out in Scotland because of the blockheaded parochial dogma of one man and his party.

"Does the First Minister really want that to be his legacy?"

The First Minister hit back, arguing that "virtually no country in Europe has the vast array of potential cheap, renewable, low carbon energy sources that Scotland has".

Mr Salmond went on: "The real task for our country is not just to secure our electricity production, which we will do and can do, the real task is to find the economic means of exporting that substantial surplus of power to the energy-poor areas of Europe.

"And that is what this government has been addressing."

John Lamont, the Tory MSP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, kept up the pressure on Mr Salmond by claiming the decision to block new nuclear power stations would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs at Scotland's two existing nuclear stations, Torness and Hunterston.

The First Minister replied: "While I recognise the importance of jobs in communities, let's just remember that there are now 2,600 jobs in renewables energy in Scotland – jobs that weren't there a few years ago but have been created by the substantial increase in renewable generation."

Last night's vote at Holyrood was welcomed by environmental campaigners.

Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "We warmly welcome the Scottish Parliament's rejection of the expensive white elephant of nuclear power, and their recognition that new nuclear power stations would be practically useless in the fight against climate change."

He went on: "This vote confirms Friends of the Earth Scotland's earlier research, which found that a majority of Scotland's MSPs are opposed to new nuclear power stations in Scotland."