The SNP won plaudits from all and sundry – including from this column – for the manner and tone, if not the daft outcome, of its debate on Nato membership last Friday.
The TV cameras reporting the event reported that the nationalist delegates did their debating against a backdrop of a sizeable demonstration opposing nuclear weapons that was being staged outside the Perth conference hall.
However, what has gone largely unremarked upon was that a much bigger demonstration – at least three times bigger than the ban-the-bomb lot – took place 24 hours later.
Saturday’s event was organised by various groups opposed to the plethora of wind farms now springing up, or being planned, all over Scotland and it is a subject that is much more immediate than the future of Trident submarines.
An independent Scotland’s possible membership of the nuclear-tipped Atlantic alliance is entirely hypothetical – it depends on (a) Alex Salmond winning the 2014 referendum and (b) Nato’s bosses accepting his loony-tunes insistence that he wouldn’t have anything to do with nuclear weapons if they let him join their club.
Wind turbines, however, are in the here and now – and increasingly, if you live in the countryside, on your doorstep – but weren’t debated by the Nats in Perth and for a pretty obvious reason.
That is Mr Salmond’s insistence that Scotland will acquire 100 per cent of
its energy requirements through so-called “renewables” by 2020; and since the other alternative energy sources are still some way from fruition, it is wind power that must make Wee Eck’s dream come true.
There were two significant developments in this argument yesterday.
The first was the claim, which we’re told was based on a parliamentary answer, that electricity generated through renewable energy projects has displaced over 8 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
This astonishing figure was published by Scottish Renewables, the umbrella group that promotes wind power.
The group said this saving was the equivalent of removing 3.5 million vehicles from the roads – more than every licensed car in Scotland or the entire output of the Longannet coal-fired power station in Fife.
But what the lobby group doesn’t tell us is that this incredible figure, which is contested by other experts, includes electricity produced by means other than by wind power – by hydro schemes, for instance.
Additionally, I’m sure that it can only have been a coincidence – couldn’t it? – that this figure was released on the very day that a planning inquiry opened into one of the country’s most controversial wind farm applications in one of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes. Campaigners claim that the 31 giant turbines – 410ft to the blade tip in height – proposed for the edge of the Cairngorm National Park would permanently blight the area.
The plan was opposed by Highland council’s planning committee, which voted 9-3 against it – hence the planning inquiry.
The National Park authority is also against the proposal.
The trouble with inquiries such as that just beginning in Aviemore is that, with a government in Edinburgh hell bent on meeting its renewables’ target in a little over seven years, there is very little public confidence in the inquiry system.
Too often planning inquiries reject wind farm developments, only for ministers to then give them the go-ahead, on subsequent appeal.
At their demonstration in Perth on Saturday, the campaigners warned Alex Salmond and his ministers that they risk losing votes over his pell-mell rush for wind farms.
I’d like to think that was true but have to say that the anti-wind farm groups have often thus far appeared too fragmented and not determined enough to sufficiently damage the Nats.
However, the turnout in Perth and the vigour on display suggests that situation may be changing. Their immediate demand is for a moratorium on further developments until an independent assessment of wind power and its alleged benefits can be undertaken.
Not much to ask, is it?
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