Five years ago, when Scotland voted in a landmark referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, the issue of North Sea oil—who owns it and how it should be administered—was a key feature of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) independence platform. If—as seems increasingly likely in the context of Britain’s ongoing scramble over Brexit—Scots vote again on the future of their union with England, the heavy winds and tides that buffet Scotland’s coastline will play an equally critical role in the next campaign.
By some estimates, Scotland has 25 percent of Europe’s total offshore wind and tidal resources and around 60 percent of the U.K.’s onshore wind capacity. Renewable energy is worth nearly 6 billion pounds (about $7.5 billion) annually to the Scottish economy—and green electricity exports are rising every year. But in the face of an accelerating global ecological crisis, both advocates and opponents of Scottish independence think the country can go further in embracing alternative energy sources—they simply disagree on whether Scottish independence would help or hurt that goal.
In the 1970s and ’80s, North Sea oil was the key symbol of Scotland’s political impotence and lost economic sovereignty.
In the future, renewable energy could occupy a similar place in our national psyche.
If there’s one thing that Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely consistent about in recent years, it’s that the Tories’ spending cuts are not, as the right monotonously insists, economically necessary, but instead form part of a broader ideological project to shrink the public sector and destroy the welfare state.
“Parliament can feel like living in a time warp at the best of times,” the Labour leader wrote in 2015, “but this government is not just replaying 2010, but taking us back to 1979: ideologically committed to rolling back the state, attacking workers’ rights and trade union protection, selling off public assets, and extending the sell-off to social housing.”
2017, it seemed, should have killed the campaign for Scottish independence stone dead.
At the UK general election in June, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a third of its Westminster seats, forcing SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to “reset” her plans for a second independence referendum. Then, in August, new analysis showed that an independent Scotland would face a projected budget deficit of 8.3 per cent – the largest of any EU state. And on top of that, major splits have begun to emerge within the ‘Yes’ base, as younger, more radical activists sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have clashed with older, more conservative nationalists loyal to the SNP.
On 17 September last year, the day before Scotland voted by a 10-point margin to remain part of the UK, I attended the SNP’s final referendum campaign rally at the Concert Hall in Perth. The event began smoothly enough—saltires were unfurled, the PA system played nationalist pop anthems (such things exist, by the way), and activists gradually massed in front of the main stage, waiting for Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon to arrive.
About 25 minutes in, however, the mood suddenly changed. A BBC News team, led by its political editor, Nick Robinson, had appeared in the gallery and a section of the audience had started jeering. SNP officials gestured frantically for the heckling to stop. Moments later, Robinson and his colleagues left.