Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wave farms-exciting news with exciting lessons

I see in the Scotsman today (as far as I can see no reference in the Herald)that their environment correspondent Ian Johnston reports with genuine excitement that ministers will today announce nine wave and tidal schemes.

No doubt once the details of the 9 schemes (including the Orkney scheme highlighted for 2008) are known there will transpire to be genuine debate to be had about the locational and other pros and cons of some or even all of them.

That in no way inhibits me from applauding the excitement expressed by Ian Johnston.

For some years now we in the SNP have been referring to a very simple statistic-Scotland posseses 10% of Europe's wave and tidal energy potential. We have repeatedly said that Scotland could and should be the world leader in this field with massive significance to Scotland's sustainable economic growth.

It is reason for excitement that it at last appears to be being grasped that the combination of Scotland's wave energy resources with her accrued expertise in engineering at sea at least could make Scotland the world leader in the field.

It is reason for excitement that representatives of the Scottish industry are quoted as saying things such as "wave technology for a long time has languished in the lab, we are now putting the technology in the water...", "the information that feeds back will feed into subsequent verions, there will be a process of continual improvement" and, above all, "if we want to follow the Danish model-which became the world leader in wind power-we need to have this sort of step"-in other words get going or you lose the opportunity.

I am not suggesting (nor, I think, is Ian Johnston) that today's announcement and the accompanying statements mean of themselves that Scotland "could be" the world leader becomes Scotland "is" the world leader. However, even as regards creating that position there are some exciting lessons to be learned.

I have always been a firm believer in the old proverb that "necessity is the mother of invention". I have never doubted that Scotland's energy industry could produce the inventiveness, enterprise and skill fully to develop Scotland's renewable energy potential if it was made politically clear that this was what Scotland demanded. Is it so surprising that Scotland's energy industry has been so slow to rise to the challenge in respect of the potential of Scotland's wave and tidal energy resource (and even yet needs an 8 million pounds encouragement to do so)when it could never be sure that the apparent political choice of the large majority of the Scottish community to have no more nuclear electricity generation in Scotland would actually be applied? Why could they never be sure of that?-because the Scottish government is not in a position to assure the industry that it would be applied. The exciting lesson is obvious. Scotland can fulfil her full potential for her own community and as a member for good of the community of nations when she takes the full responsibility for that fulfilment.

There is a second exciting lesson to be learned or rather re-learned. The politics of a nation are not to be restricted to endless debate about the use of resources in static circumstances. They are supposed to be about changing the circumstances for the better. In the course of the past week we have had a stark example of what happens when that lesson is forgotten. There has been general agreement in Scotland for years that dramatic reduction in class sizes is the essential key to Scotland's young people enjoying the school education they deserve. This week it transpired that the Scottish Executive had not only realised that no progress had been made but had given up trying to make progress. To make things happen in your nation you have to do more than shuffle about within "existing circumstances". You have to change the circumstances and you can only really change them if you are determined to change them, plan to change them and above all take responsibility for changing them.

Lachie McNeill


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