Talking point: Turning up the heat

Written by on 5 May 2014

The SNP’s determination to keep the independence debate moving on its own terms has been emphasised by a pointed statement on energy security.

A report by the Scottish Government said that the UK faced the ‘highest risk of electricity black out in a generation’, before helpfully reminding readers that Britain’s energy supply could not be maintained without Scotland, as a net exporter of electricity, supplying the UK.

The report says: "Scotland offers safe and secure supplies of electricity and gas and can assist the rest of the UK in meeting its renewable energy targets.”

It then continues: "However, as a substantial supplier to the rest of the UK, an independent Scotland will require a far greater degree of oversight of the market arrangements for energy and firmer safeguards over Scottish energy security.”

And it is true that the UK would need Scotland’s energy. Alongside fears over the removal of Trident (which itself may have prompted the bizarre recent unnamed back-track on currency), energy is the biggest trump card the Yes camp would hold in post-independence negotiations.

Only a cursory look at the EU’s concern over Russian involvement in Ukraine is enough to show that maintaining energy supplies is a national security issue.

Around half of Ukraine’s gas supply comes from Russia, while around 40 per cent of the gas flowing to the EU from Russia comes through Ukraine. States cannot survive without energy, which is one of the reasons the EU is so concerned.

As a man who is currently incapable of controlling my own central heating, I feel I face similar dilemmas to the EU. My new flat’s heating swings from normal to hothouse temperatures without warning. Like Putin, it is inscrutable, keeping me in a state of nervous tension through its baffling, obscure moves.

Now, clearly Scotland and the rest of the UK would be very unlikely to end up in a situation like the one entangling Russia, the Crimea, Ukraine and the EU. But equally, there is no way that the UK could allow itself to risk energy supply, without risking its sovereignty at the same time.

As such, the move by the Scottish Government is a clever one, mimicking George Osborne’s warning over currency, and pointing out that, just as Scotland would need the UK’s cooperation in the event of independence, the UK would need Scotland too.

After all there’s no point having the bank notes if you don’t have light to see them by.

Of course the SNP would have an interest in selling energy to the rest of the UK in the event of independence – but until that happens, it will be no surprise if they continue to use the issue of energy supply to turn up the heat.

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