The Scottish Government has yet again walked away from low-carbon jobs. Sean Baillie argues that the structural change required to create jobs and meet the threat of climate changes will require serious commitment and class politics.
Alex Salmond is often quoted as saying Scotland will be the ‘Saudi Arabia of renewables’. Delivering a keynote speech at a conference on renewables after Brexit hosted by Dundee university in 2017 he said: “I’d love to claim the credit for being the father of Scotland’s renewables but that kudos really belongs to a former Dundee MP, Tom Johnston, who as Scottish Secretary during the second world war, brought ‘power to the glens’ by leading the hydro power investment by a number of means – including using powers of compulsory purchase from the aristocratic land owners who he had earlier savaged in his ironically-entitled book, ‘Our Great Scottish Aristocrats’. (1)
Three years later Saudi Arabia have pledged $30bn in renewable energy to boost local manufacturing and provide thousands of new jobs in low carbon energy as part of an attempt to diversify from fossil fuels (2). Meanwhile Scottish Government ministers have reportedly walked away from attempts to secure at least a part of the £5bn offshore wind farm Neart na Gaoithe (NnG). The news means the loss to Scotland of jobs and infrastructure, in a deal worth £2bn.
The BBC reported on the 21st of: “DF Barnes, the majority stakeholder of the Bi Fab yards had been negotiating to build jackets for wind turbines to be installed off Fife by French firm EDF. But the company has pulled out, citing a refusal by the Scottish government to provide financial guarantees. The Scottish government took a stake in the Bifab yards when they were saved from permanent closure in April 2018. But it said it was legally barred from guaranteeing contracts while the majority shareholder was not funding the company or the yards.” (3)
The legal barriers referenced in the Scottish Government comment is in relation to murky state aid rules. Under EU rules it is unlawful for EU countries to give financial help to some companies and not others in a way which would distort ‘fair competition’. This is despite the French state-owned energy company EDF owning the rights for the windfarm in question, and the small issue of Scotland leaving the EU following the Brexit referendum.
If you were to stand on the edge of the mothballed yards in fife and looked out across the Forth, on a sunny day, you might even catch a glimpse of Neart na Gaoithe. You would also be standing on the scene of one of Scotland’s most recent prolonged and often intense industrial battles, one that could have shaped the future of green manufacturing in Scotland. In 2017 only weeks before Salmond’s speech at Dundee University, workers at the Bi Fab yards in Fife occupied the yards forcing the Scottish Government to step in and provide security for the workforce and the future of manufacturing in the area. (4)
This latest failure is just another in a long line of action not meeting the rhetoric of a green jobs revolution as part of a ‘green new deal’. These slogans have so far only been cruelly plagiarised by politicians.
In 2010 the Scottish Government released a paper outlining a low carbon economic strategy for Scotland, it predicted 130,000 jobs in low carbon sector by 2020 (5). A recent GMB Scotland report on what the union calls a green jobs crisis found that the numbers of those employed in Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy estimated around 23,000 in 2018. (6)
Over that same period, the political landscape in Scotland, the UK and Europe has changed drastically. A referendum on Scottish Independence set imaginations alight with ideas and dreams of what kind of country we could build as an independent state. The result of that referendum followed by another on Brexit and subsequent elections of increasingly nefarious Conservative Governments, has replaced those hopes and dreams of what an independent state could be, with an urgent dread and desperation to escape something worse.
Such feelings are only further fuelled by a global pandemic and looming economic and environmental collapse. However, it is for these very same reasons that we must revisit and maintain those hopes and dreams. We cannot hope to escape a crumbling, corrupt state that is willing to throw billions of pounds at private companies like Serco to provide inadequate services at a time of crisis, whilst refusing to provide meagre economic security to its people, only to sleepwalk into economic and environmental catastrophe, following the same failed economic strategies.
How can we begin to build an independent state with backward and faltering infrastructure? How can we build an economic recovery with no sustainable industry and supply chains? How do we combine both as part of meaningful green new deal and a just transition, when our politicians aren’t willing to show the same commitment and leadership they ask of us every day.
Our nurses, our doctors, the carer’s, cleaners, refuse workers and key workers have risked their lives throughout the pandemic, displaying a commitment and leadership lacking in the corridors of power. In return we have seen politicians and governments submit to private capital and multinational corporations in every area of our economy, from manufacturing to housing and our NHS, all to our economic and democratic detriment.
Both Roosevelt – the founder of the first ‘New Deal’ – and Tom Johnson understood the historical moment they were in and the challenges they faced. The New Deal followed the Great Depression and Johnson’s project to bring power to the glens was born from the horrors of war. In order for both projects to succeed they acknowledged the class forces at play and recognised that there would be a need for a degree of conflict between those class forces.
If we want to bring renewable power to the glens, as part of a Green New deal and Just Transition at the very least, we must do the same.
GMB Green Jobs Crisis: The realities of job growth in the renewables sector