Opinion: We have a duty to scrutinise Westminster’s plans for Scotland

As we get back to the new session of Parliament the Scottish Affairs Committee will continue to look at the reserved responsibilities and how they impact on Scotland. Our main responsibility is to scrutinise the work of the Secretary of State for Scotland but we are also uniquely placed to access evidence from both Scotland’s Governments and look at the space that falls between Westminster and Holyrood.

In the last session of Parliament we looked at university funding, the four nations approach to COVID, Social Security in Scotland and issues around the Shared Prosperity Fund. As we go forward, we have called for evidence for our new inquiries on Airports in Scotland and Scotland’s Defence footprint.

It is a number of years since defence in Scotland has been properly scrutinised by a Select Committee, and we are keen to explore the impacts of the UK’s changing defence priorities on investment and employment opportunities in Scotland. Successive defence reviews have radically altered the economic wellbeing of many of our traditional defence communities and we will look at how the recent military infrastructure investments have affected them. We will also examine the planned military personnel and estate reductions and what additional support the UK Government may be able to offer.

In time we will then move on to looking at the nuclear deterrent, shipbuilding and space technology in what will be a wide-ranging review and comprehensive assessment of the whole defence infrastructure in Scotland. 

Our inquiry into Airports in Scotland will be the first time that this sector has been examined by a Westminster committee. The coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced activity at Scotland’s airports impacting on tourism and connectivity, particularly to Scotland’s more rural and isolated communities. We will explore how airports support the local and regional job market and how effective air freight is for essential supplies in rural and island communities.

We will ask if there is a sufficient level of investment in the infrastructure around airports in Scotland and how airspace modernisation will affect Scottish airports.

We will inevitably stray into the tension between airport connectivity and the necessity to reduce the carbon footprint in order to meet our carbon reduction obligations. In all this is an inquiry that touches on many sensitive issues and we hope that we might be able to bring some attention to the bigger questions around airports and air travel in Scotland. We invite anybody with an interest in either of these subjects to please forward their views to our committee. 

I suppose that then brings us quite neatly into some of our ongoing inquiries most notably on Renewables. In the run up to the COP26 conference coming to Glasgow we are concluding our report into Renewables in Scotland looking at progress in securing our net zero targets.
What we have found is a sector preparing for a renewable renaissance and positively looking at a future less reliant on carbon.

Already enormous progress has been made. In 2020, 97% of our electricity in Scotland was generated by renewables: the equivalent to powering all households in Scotland for almost three and a half years, and up 7% from 2019. Where this is indeed good news many difficulties have also been identified.

Many of our witnesses expressed their exasperation with the tools we have at our disposal to deliver these targets. Transmission charges seem almost designed as an impediment to harness Scotland’s full renewable potential and the ageing grid needs urgent attention to ensure that we have a 21st century energy infrastructure.

There is also the huge question of green energy transition. Witnesses have told us that the transition is creating many thousands of jobs and leading to prosperous communities. From onshore and offshore wind to hydro power, our energy use is well and truly being decarbonised. Scottish Renewables told us that it is identifying which skills can cross over from the current oil and gas workforce. Even the Green Jobs Taskforce report stated in July that many of the potential skills gaps for offshore wind could be addressed by those working in the oil and gas sectors. 

However, we must ensure that any necessary reskilling is done quickly and effectively to avoid holding up progress for the renewables sector, and to ensure a seamless transition for those whose jobs are likely to be impacted.  

The UK must reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, and thankfully, Scotland has the toolbox to achieve it. But it won’t be easy, and the UK Government, working with the Scottish Government, must ensure a just transition towards the green jobs and real tangible policy levers that can allow renewable energy to grow further. 

There is no better time than now to address these points as we prepare to host COP26. We must showcase the opportunities available to the people of Scotland, and we can show world leaders that the low carbon transition can create jobs, support local economies and bolster livelihoods.
Our report on Renewable Energy in Scotland will be released in the next few weeks.

Pete Wishart is the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, and the chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992