Alex Salmond notched up another award the other evening to add to the great long list of those he has received since that astonishing election win in May.
He now has so many that, like one of those Soviet generals of days gone by, his medals would cover not just his chest but his stomach, too. Still, given the scale of his victory and his scattering of the opposition parties, it is difficult to gainsay his achievements.
His latest “gong” was to be named Best Politician at the Scottish Green Energy Awards. This allowed him to recommit his administration to the phenomenally ambitious target of making Scotland self-sufficient in renewable energy within eight years.
This aspiration will be trumpeted at the world climate change conference in South Africa in the coming days by Stewart Stephenson, the SNP environment minister.
However, while the Nats strut the world stage over Mr Salmond’s self-sufficiency goals, back here in Scotland all is far from well with at least one aspect of his plan.
Analysts at Citigroup have already cast doubt on its feasibility, declaring that it would be prohibitively expensive. Now, communities all over Scotland are attacking what one MSP called the “uncoordinated, unplanned and incoherent shambles” of onshore wind farm developments.
In one of the best-attended sessions of the Scottish Parliament – in terms of the public gallery at least – a whole host of MSPs attacked the plethora of turbines now scarring the Scottish landscape. Good heavens, even a few Nats managed to utter some words of criticism, an almost unheard of phenomenon in recent Scottish political history.
However, given the completely hopeless procedures of this useless body, Thursday night’s debate was restricted to one hour and 13 minutes. Even that was thanks to the deputy presiding officer allocating the issue an extra half-hour. For procedural reasons, there was no vote on Lothians Labour MSP Neil Findlay’s motion criticising the lack of planning guidelines and absence of community involvement in the granting of turbine applications. At this juncture, it’s perhaps worth noting that Mr Findlay has emerged as a bit of a star on his party’s backbenches.
In his speech he acknowledged that Mr Salmond’s green target was “laudable”, but added that this “lofty ambition could be scuppered by some fundamental flaws in policy and practice”.
He was especially concerned about an application being considered to site no fewer than 250 turbines on a line from North Lanarkshire, through West Lothian, to the North Pentlands and Edinburgh’s south-west fringes.
Mr Findlay likened it to the American Gold Rush, “with landowners hawking their land for rental and developers seeing shiny treasure in the form of subsidies” all over the place.
He accused the SNP of taking a laissez-faire approach to planning and said multinational companies and venture capitalists were “trampling” over local communities in search of profit. Adam Ingram, the former SNP education minister, said he supported wind power but insisted that the “scale and rapidity of proposed developments … resembled a new Klondike”.
He demanded tighter controls for local planning authorities, as did Labour’s Graeme Pearson, who described the current arrangements as “chaotic”.
For the Tories, John Lamont complained that councils often turned down wind farm applications only for them to be restored on appeal when the “will of the Scottish government” was imposed on communities.
He said Mr Salmond’s “obsession” with wind energy meant his administration lacked any coherent strategy to ensure that wind farms were put in appropriate locations.
The SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse was a keen supporter of wind power and claimed that existing turbines were capable of producing enough power for every home in the Borders. But he conceded that many people were becoming opponents.
This theme was taken up by the Tories’ Alex Fergusson, who declared that he had wind turbines on his farmland. “The saddest fact in all of this is that most people who are anti-wind farm are not against renewable energy, but the two are becoming increasingly conflated,” he said.
Jim Hume, of the Liberal Democrats, revealed that there were applications for no fewer than 800 turbines going through the planning process in Dumfries and Galloway.
In his speech accepting his latest award on Thursday night, Mr Salmond said he was “absolutely determined” that Scotland was “going to invest, design, engineer, fabricate, construct, maintain and install the great energy machines that are going to dominate this coming century”.
However, as Annabel Goldie pointed out in the Holyrood debate, the logical conclusion of Mr Salmond’s rejection of nuclear power is that the country’s energy future now depends heavily on wind energy.
And as MSPs from all parties, including his own, pointed out fewer and fewer people want anything to do with onshore turbines.
It would seem that they are not wanted in anyone’s backyard.
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