Time and time again I see the same themes in many of the attacks against the wind developments which are despoiling our landscape here in Scotland. “It’s all Alex Salmond’s fault”, and by extension it’s the SNP that are to blame and that if we get rid of the SNP we’ll live in a green and pleasant turbine free land. There are regularly letters in the outdoor media and the national press which follow this line of reasoning, and it’s a theme I have picked up on, especially in the lead up to the referendum on Scottish independence. I believe in an independent Scotland and I’m also passionately against wind farms, as is TGO magazines former editor Cameron McNeish. There are those who are just as passionately against windfarms who support a No vote, and who would seek to capitalise on one issue to aid the other.
In a study by Dr John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland it was shown that the media, in the main the BBC, had a propensity to personalise issues within the context of the referendum debate, but only in relation to Alex Salmond. Pro union stories were generally headlined as “Better Together says…” while anything from the Yes campaign was generally labelled “Salmond says…” This shoddy and biased journalism is designed to reinforce stereotypes. Salmond: bad. Unionism: good. While attacking Alex Salmond and the SNP repeatedly and loudly, it fails to ask any questions at all from any of the parties which make up the No side as what their plans as regards renewables are.
In December 2013 the unelected House of Lords voted to remove the Scottish Parliament’s powers over renewable energy by way of amendment 54 to the Energy Act 2013. This gave the UK Government a free hand to completely bypass the Scottish Government and in July 2014 they announced a free for all on licences for fracking, something the Scottish Government was categorically against. Even national parks weren’t kept off the target list. The Scottish Wild Land Core Map, which the Scottish Government had agreed to respect was bypassed at a stroke, and there isn’t a thing that can be done about it. While it was still to be seen if the Scottish Government would keep their word, there can be no doubt about what Westminster has done. It has stuck two fingers up to the people of Scotland, and said that if our legislation is a stumbling block to the UK national policy then they shall scrap it. Quite how this equates with more powers after a No vote I’m not sure.
Which brings me back to the Unionist parties and their intentions. With the Tories and the Lib-Dems both supporting “respectful fracking”, the Lib Dems and Labour supporting more wind turbines, and the Conservatives vowing to scrap onshore windfarms in future while supporting them today, it seems as clear as crystal that on examination there is absolutely no likelihood that a No vote in the independence referendum or a change of Scottish Government from the SNP with end the industrialisation of our wild places. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is the order of the day where renewables is concerned.
I truly believe that the battle against windfarms has been lost. There are no doubt victories still to be had. Small windfarms with a good amount of reasonable objection, grounded in fact, can be defeated. I know this, because I have helped defeat such developments. But the larger developments, and these are generally the ones which occupy larger areas, are harder nuts to crack, and due to the sheer amount of money involved are likely to succeed. Should Scotland vote No in the forthcoming referendum it will be a signal to Westminster, not for more powers for Scotland, but to draw more power from Scotland. The National Planning Act which applies to England and Wales could quite easily be extended to cover Scotland. If we currently have any safeguards in Scotland against development they can be removed by Westminster to fall in line with those south of the border, and which will make a presumption in favour of large developments which are deemed in the national interest, the HS2 rail link being a case in point. Our own system is by no means perfect, but at least we had some mechanisms of protest, if not prevention.
We need to protect this system just as strongly as we would like the wild land itself to be protected, and that will not be be done by trying to confuse the issue for short term gain.