28 April 2022
A turbine to top it off?
by J.R. Thomas
Ross, Skye, and Lochaber is a parliamentary constituency much blessed amongst the 650 in the British Isles. It is probably the most beautiful, for a start, though on this we will of course defer to those who feel beauty to be in the eye of the beholder. It is unarguably the biggest (for those who like this sort of data, Islington North is the smallest), but has one of the smallest number of voters (circa 58,000, against Islington N’s 75,000; Outer Hebrides is the smallest at 21,000 voters). And it is doubly blest with, and we say this with all proper respect and affection, one of the funniest members of Parliament.
Ian Blackford is his name, and he may well be known to most readers as leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons. He does not, so far as we know, intentionally set out to amuse, but his manner and many of his utterances make laughter unavoidable. He was an investment banker in a previous life and achieved a senior position, which alas seems to have left him with a certain grumpy impatience and also a loquacious and orotund style of speaking. Speaking is something he seems to enjoy, at least in public, and he makes the most of every opportunity at considerable length. This can cause both despair and amusement among those who have to listen to him; and those who do not leave the Commons when Mr Blackford rises to speak will know that they are generally in for a long session. One cannot help feeling that Ms Sturgeon, his party leader in Scotland, knew well what she was doing when agreeing that his gifts should be deployed in Westminster rather than Edinburgh.
But he is a true and loyal Scotsman, and nobody could doubt his enthusiasm over many years for the cause of Scottish independence, a cause which he may have advanced in Scotland but one suspects he has inadvertently done much to advance among English M.P.’s. Last week our man exceeded himself in his promotion of the cause of Scotland taking her rightful place in the world. Mr Blackford condemned the British Government for not moving sooner and faster to reduce the United Kingdom’s stock of nuclear weapons, saying that this made this country and Scotland in particular a potential focus of nuclear attacks by Russia. “We should” he said “have been getting round the table with the Russians and others, and making sure that we were reducing the threat from nuclear weapons, reducing nuclear warheads.” He referred to the instability brought about by the Russian attacks on Ukraine, as an example of the dangerous world which we live in and continued: “Having nuclear weapons isn’t a protection. Having nuclear weapons makes us a threat and we’ve had a long-standing position that having nuclear weapons on the Clyde is something that we cannot tolerate.” (“We” means the SNP, of course.)
The SNP has long been against having nuclear warheads on Scottish soil, or technically, in Scottish water, as the main concentration is in the Faslane submarine base on the Clyde, and has vowed to remove the base should full independence be achieved. Indeed, the party is against any sort of nuclear activity in Scotland, saying it will not permit any new nuclear power stations in Scotland should it gain the power to forbid them.
There is only one remaining nuclear power station in Scotland, that at Torness, east of Edinburgh. There were four, but they have gradually closed, the latest being Hunterston B, on the Clyde, which ceased to generate power in January this year. Torness will close in 2028, leaving something of a hole in the Scotland’s energy supply; there are days when up to 80% of Scottish electricity is coming from nuclear power, when the wind fails to blow, or blows too hard.
So it seems not impossible that an independent Scotland could be left powerless in both an electric and a defensive sense. The SNP and Mr Blackford do not see it that way of course; Mr B thinks this will show Scotland setting a lead to the rest of the world. In this, most military strategists beg to differ. Ukraine, of course, had, prior to its independence in 1991, both electricity from nuclear sources (the most famous power station being Chernobyl which blew up in 1986), and nuclear weapons. The latter were given up under the Budapest Agreement in 1994 when Ukraine agreed to become a non-nuclear armed state in return for certain guarantees from Russia, the USA, and the UK as to Ukraine’s continuing independence and rights of self government.
Though that seemed like a good idea at the time, most Ukrainians do not see it as such a good idea now; it seems very unlikely that the Russian invasion would have taken place had Ukraine still possessed even a limited nuclear capability; and as for those guarantees, well, they turn out to be about as useful as a guarantee on a middle aged washing machine. Latvia and Lithuania, increasingly nervous as to Mr Putin’s increasing aggression, used to house some of Russia’s nuclear weaponry but these were removed in the early 1990’s on their independence; politicians there have recently been quite open that this leaves them with a defence deficit should the Putin eye swing round to them – and reports of Russian naval exercises and increased military activity suggests that they are right to be nervous.
Of course, a cynic would say that when it comes to defence, Mr Blackford and the Scottish Nationalists would be effectively able to play the game both ways. An independent Scotland could kick out the nuclear subs, which would have to be moved to perhaps Barrow in Furness in Cumbria, and any other nuclear weaponry lurking amongst the heather, declare a state of moral high-ground, and reduce her military budget (indeed why not abolish almost all military expenditure, and lead the world in defence moralising?). But should one day some great enemy, whether from Moscow or elsewhere, suddenly loom up over the North Sea, then the Scots could be pretty confident that England next door will have maintained a full defence capability and would be most unlikely to let Scotland be invaded by an unfriendly power. Hadrian’s Wall is no longer fit for purpose and strategically these islands would have to be defended as a whole.
As for electricity generation, the traveller into Scotland will notice that already the Dumfriesshire hills are greatly disfigured by wind turbines, as are the hills either side of the central belt, from Glasgow to Edinburgh. But Scotland probably needs three times as many turbines, and much battery storage, to provide enough power for her projected needs. How will Mr Blackford’s constituents feel if turbines start to be installed on the Cuillins of Skye and the mountains of Lochaber? We look forward to his extended prognostications on that.