SNP conference: Members demand public energy and transport companies

Ordinary members of the SNP have overwhelmingly backed a plan to establish a Scottish national energy company just days after the government quietly dropped the idea, and demanded the creation of a national transport company to own electric car charging infrastructure on Scotland's roads.

Net Zero minister  Michael Matheson.
Net Zero minister Michael Matheson.

In an move which will embarrass the SNP government, rank and file members at the party’s virtual conference, backed a motion to create a public energy utility by 527 votes, to just six against.

The vote came just days after Scottish ministers came under fire when it emerged previous plans to set up a state-owned energy firm had been abandoned.

Nicola Sturgeon announced four years ago the intention to establish a not-for-profit national energy company that would deliver low-cost green power to households across the country, helping to reduce fuel poverty and tackle climate change.

Instead Net Zero minister, Michael Matheson, said efforts will now focus on the creation of a “new dedicated national public energy agency” a move branded “a total dereliction of duty”.

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Addressing the SNP conference, Rob Gibson of the party’s Cromarty Firth branch moved the motion, demanding the creation of an energy company, otherwise, he said: “Scotland will remain an energy company under London rule.”

He said: “We need a Scottish electricity grid not beholden to shareholder dividends but to serve our citizens. We demand social justice and fairness.

"Scotland's clean power produced in communities and nationally has many options among them – on and offshore wind, hydro, solar, tidal and maybe even wave power down the line.

"Access to fair prices for producers and consumers are a no brainer. Each is stymied today by the Tory obsession with nuclear power.”

Mr Gibson urged the government to “unchain Scotland's energy potential” from UK policies which “line shareholders pockets in a Thatcher legacy of profits for the few and expensive tariffs for the many”.

Dumfries and Galloway Councillor Katie Haggman backed the motion, and an amendment, saying the company should prioritise “the delivery of affordable energy to customers of limited means”.

Another member, Roland Chapman, asked delegates to “stand up to an economic system that has... allowed one of our greatest resources in Scotland to be taken from us. Highland clearances never again.

"Our demand is for this new national energy company, to have a remit progressively to take over the harnessing of distribution of Scotland's immense renewable energy potential.”

Marianna Clyde of Edinburgh’s Meadows and Morningside branch added: "The proposal for a national energy company was announced in 2017. But in the recent programme for government, there's been announced another agency, which is appears to be advisory only.

"I feel that we must do much, much more than simply advise Scottish public and local authorities on energy efficiency measures.”

Responding to the vote, Scottish Labour’s Net Zero spokesperson Monica Lennon said “It seems SNP members agree with Scottish Labour on the transformative potential of a national energy company.

“The SNP government is out of touch with what its members want and what Scotland needs. Its chronic lack of ambition is becoming embarrassing for them with everyone from its own members to its own coalition partners queuing up to demand more.

“A real national energy company would not only be a game changer for consumers, but it would help Scotland fulfil its potential as a true world-leader in renewables – potential that the SNP is squandering.”

However Liam Kerr, the Tory Net Zero spokesman said the idea was a “failure” on which the SNP had already spent £500,000.

“Like so many of their pledges over the years, it was all headlines and no substance,” he said. “Shelving the company has plainly tarnished the newly-minted partnership with the Greens.

"Perhaps the move towards renewables wasn't as important to them as getting into government.”

An SNP spokesperson said the party conference had “made clear its support for the accelerated decarbonisation of Scotland’s energy supply and usage.”

Party members also backed a motion which “expects the Scottish Government to establish a National Transport Company”, which would install core charging and refuelling infrastructure on Scotland's roads for electric vehicles, as well as own and operate the technology “for the public good."

The motion, which said that to deliver on the Scottish Government's transport pledges to reduce carbon emissions, the company must quickly ensure “a robust charging and hydrogen fuelling infrastructure is in place for the vehicles of the future” was backed by transport minster Graeme Dey.

Inverclyde MSP Stuart Macmillan said he had initially been opposed to the idea but had changed his mind. He said: “I have come to consider that in order for the consistent and focused changes that we need to deliver over the coming years and decades, a national transport company could well be that driver for change.

"It must be ambitious and also work for all parts of the country. I do regularly hear from colleagues representing rural communities, about a lack of transport opportunities in their areas and I don't believe that this should be the case.

"There is no one size fits all and whatever will be required in Inverness will be different from what is needed in Inverclyde, but one aspect that will be consistent is the fuelling of transport. Refuelling infrastructure is crucial to delivering cleaner transport options, owning and operating the infrastructure will help us meet our annual targets and the added bonus is a common good that will be delivered for our communities.”

He added: “Make no mistake, net zero is not a choice. It needs to happen. If Scotland can set up an investment bank why can't we set up a national transport company? I accept there will be challenges along the way. There always will be. However the awards for Scotland and the planet can provide an outcome we can be proud of.”

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