Ministers were forced to admit the much-used claim Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind energy potential was incorrect and inaccurate following the publication of a report by the pro-union think-tank These Islands.
However, when ministers were first made aware of the potential inaccuracy has been subject to fierce scrutiny. The Government has claimed it was first aware on November 8, the day the report was passed to it.
Emails between officials suggest civil servants were aware the figure was not “properly sourced” as early as October 2020, but continued using the figure in official briefings, speeches and press releases. It was first used in 2010 by the Scottish Government.
The November date was directly contradicted by energy minister Michael Matheson while he was giving evidence to the Scottish affairs committee in Westminster on Monday. He said under questioning from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross that he first became aware of the inaccurate figure “back in September”.
If this is accurate, it means green skills minister Lorna Slater misled the Scottish Parliament when she said ministers became aware of the inaccuracy on November 8 – the day a report debunking the statistic was shared with the Scottish Government.
Asked whether the admission from Mr Matheson meant Ms Slater had misled Holyrood, the Government repeated its response that ministers became aware of the report on November 8, but evaded the question of whether that was when ministers knew the statistic was inaccurate.
The situation means if the Government’s position is that ministers were first aware of the figure – rather than the report – being inaccurate was also November 8, Mr Matheson has misled the House of Commons.
Asked by Mr Ross “when did you become aware of that inaccurate figure?”, Mr Matheson said: “I think the figure was, if I recall correctly, was back in September."
Mr Ross added: “So your junior minister Lorna Slater told the Scottish Parliament that ministers became aware on November 8. Was that an inaccurate statement from Lorna Slater?” Mr Matheson responded: “No, I don’t think it was. I don’t have the papers in front of me on the issue, but the figure that was provided by Lorna Slater was correct at the time.”
The net zero cabinet secretary then doubled down on the September date when Mr Ross asked: “Are you honestly trying to say you only became aware of it back in September of last year?” The SNP minister responded: “Yeah I am, yes.”
When it was put to the Government that Mr Matheson’s comments meant Ms Slater had misled Parliament on when ministers first became aware, the Scottish Government evaded the question and answered on a different point.
A spokesperson said: “Ministers became aware of the report by These Islands on November 8. We are now working to produce an updated figure for Scotland’s offshore wind potential, which will be published in due course.”
Since ministers admitted the figure was inaccurate, it has emerged civil servants working for the First Minister’s policy unit were advised of its shortcomings months before the public admission.
Mr Matheson’s name was also redacted from an email discussing the inaccuracy of the figure.