Friday, 2 December 2011

Debating the debacle

Yesterday's debate in Holyrood was a curious affair. It was pretty well attended by the public, with the public gallery being about 60% full. The motion, presented by Neil Findlay received wide cross party support. MSPs of all colours lined up to give a 'me too' sort of party feel to the event. Even SNP MSP Adam Ingram spoke largely in support of the motion (although he couldn't resist a dig at Struan Stevenson first). Things were looking good. The issue of the role of central government reversing local planning authority decisions was a common theme during individual contributions, as was the cumulative effect of wind farm developments and the role of community benefit funds (CBF). Unfortunately, we then had to sit through the poor performance of the SNP taking the party line against the motion.

Chic Brodie seemed more interested in talking about removing the 'noise and emotion' from the debate, whilst trying to blame Westminster for our current wind farm woes. He has perhaps forgotten that the two policies that underpin this mess are uniquely SNP (100% electricity generation from renewables, and no new nuclear) and that the emotion is there because people are sick and tired of being ignored. Additionally, it is a pity that the surprise he expressed at Ayr in terms of the magnitude of onshore wind farm development when he caught site of the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wind farm footprint maps did not carry through to the debating chamber. Consequently, I can only assume the words he spoke in Ayr were designed to try and calm the delegates in attendance rather than take anything back to Holyrood with a view to doing something useful.

The sacrificial minister put in probably the worst performance you are ever likely to encounter in such a debate despite having nearly twice as long to speak as the individuals who spoke in support of the motion. He addressed none of the issues raised by the preceding speakers in any meaningful sort of way. Indeed, the only real value he bought to the debate was the announcement of more Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) policy/guidance on wind farms and that Scottish and SOuthern Energy has announced that its policy on all CBFs is now to pay £5,000/MWH. Unfortunately, what SNH say carries little weight in reality; their ability to influence the sensible implementation of Scottish Government policy is strictly limited. The lack of SNH MSPs attending the debate was also a real concern. Presumably then, all of their constituencies are not encountering any of the problems everyone else seems to be encountering. Adam Ingram appears to be able, and happy to pin his colours to the mast - but he looked rather lonely to be quite honest. A full video of the debate should be available from here shortly.

So, was it worth it? Yes I think so. The issues faced by communities and individuals are getting wider and wider coverage and taking them to the seat of power can only ever be a good thing. Long term, I think people really need to (continue or start to) badger their MSPs if they have concerns about wind farms - this mess came out of Holyrood, is managed by Holyrood and is likely only ever to be solved there - and only if large numbers of people make their feelings known - continually.

A transcript of the debate can be found here (starting on page 4292, which is actually page 74 of the document itself).