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This weekend I will ride like an anxious shareholder on the Edinburgh trams. I will feel every shoogle, look for every fault, wonder whether my investment as taxpayer and patient citizen will ever be worthwhile.

Trams start running this weekend

Trams start running this weekend

This project, as all the world knows, has been a disaster, an embarrassment and a joke. But finally now it is a thing of hope. Can the shiny red and white trams restore the city’s reputation? Will they be well used? Will they be extended and fulfil their original ambition?

The trams will start answering these questions at 5am on Saturday. The fare will be the same as the buses for all city journeys, £1.50, but £5.00 if you want to go all of the 9miles from the city centre to the airport. You can buy your ticket from a machine at each of the 16 stops or from the young and enthusiastic conductor on board. Your tram will, hopefully, be carrying 331 other passengers. It will pass gracefully through the red lights, avoiding startled pedestrians and cyclists, and make its way sedately to the airport in about 35 minutes – longer than the airport buses take, curiously.

On such a day, would it be unseemly to ask who was responsible for the three year delay to the project? For it costing £776m instead of £375m, and for it being half the original length? No it would not. The council’s own inquiry may not have started, but my own inquiry has found the bosses of Edinburgh Transport Initiatives to blame, aided and abetted by the politicians.

The Scottish Parliament  Another project with a financially shaky shart

The Scottish Parliament
Another project with a financially shaky shart

The Edinburgh trams were not the only post-devolution project to suffer a shaky start. The Scottish Parliament building makes the trams look financially frugal by comparison. But hey, this is what nation-building is all about, trial and error, pride and fall. This week we’ve been taking the delivery of weighty reports about an independent Scotland. The UK Treasury brought out a report saying every Scot would be £1,400 a year worse off if we vote Yes in September’s referendum. The SNP government not only disputed that figure, it predicted we would be £1,000 better off.

It turned out that both figures could be correct because the £1,400 refers to the start-up costs of a new nation and the £1,000 reflects a resurgent nation, predicted to grow its economy at 3 per cent a year. Which goes to prove that the referendum is not a question in a mathematics exam but more a question of history and culture.

So too is the European Union which will now have a rabid anti-EU member of parliament from Scotland in David Coburn. He stole one of Scotland’s six seats from the Liberal Democrats who are plunging towards oblivion as I write. They came 6th in the Euro-elections in Scotland, behind Mr Coburn’s UKIP and the Greens. The SNP won most votes, though Labour and the Conservatives held on to their seats pretty comfortably on a 33 per turnout.

Danny Alexander  Help for the GSA

Danny Alexander
Help for the GSA

Notice how keen the politicians are to please in these sensitive electoral times. No sooner had the firemen put out the blaze at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh art school in Glasgow than Danny Alexander the treasury minister was promising funds to repair the damage. Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s culture secretary, was standing by the smoking building doing much the same. Was the art school not insured, I wonder?

Indeed the city of Glasgow and the art world generally I think rather over-reacted to the fire. No one was killed or injured. The building can be rebuilt. The fire service saved most of it anyway and much of its contents. Sure, the library was badly damaged and some students lost their current works, but several arty types were composing eulogies as if the whole of Western art had been destroyed. Perhaps I’m biased – and certainly unfashionable – but I find Mackintosh’s style heavy-handed, dark and uncomfortable. That library must have been a scary place in which to work.

The nation has been agonising again over its landed estates. A report published by the Scottish government’s review group has called for a limit on the number of acres of land an individual or company can own. The Duke of Buccleuch for instance owns 240,000 acres, the Duke of Atholl 124,000, the Duke of Westminster 94,000, the Dutch fashion billionaire Anders Povlsen 160,000.

Bowhill House Part of Buccleuch Estates

Bowhill House
Part of Buccleuch Estates

The landowners and the gamekeepers have, of course, condemned the idea of a cap on acreage, saying it would starve the countryside of investment. Those in favour of smallholdings or community ownership say a cap would release the true potential of the land. And I notice this week that the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis, and the 1400 acres of land round about them, have been taken over by the local community with the help of a government grant.

No such help has been available to two pieces of hallowed turf here in Edinburgh, Tynecastle and Easter Road. Both Hearts and Hibs have been relegated to the second division of Scottish football, strangely called The Championship. Hearts have gone down for financial reasons and Hibs lost out to Hamilton in a tearful penalty shootout in the rains of last Sunday afternoon. Thank goodness Gordon Strachan restored our football reputation by taking the national team to a respectable two-all draw with World Cup qualifiers Nigeria in a friendly and exciting match in London.

It’s strange how so many stories touch upon our national pride, from trams to parliaments, art work to sport. And each time we are humbled.

Switzerland’s leading leisure airline, Edelweiss, has inaugurated its new non-stop service from Edinburgh to Zurich today. It will operate twice per week – on Mondays and Fridays, during the summer season.

Karl Kistler  CEO of Edelweiss

Karl Kistler
CEO of Edelweiss

“We are very excited to add Edinburgh to our network”, said Karl Kistler, the airline’s Chief Executive Officer and captain who piloted the inaugural flight on 16 May 2014 himself. “Our two weekly flights throughout the summer season from May till October will carry approximately 8,000 passengers to Scotland and will have a significant impact on incoming tourism from Switzerland and other connecting markets.”

Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport, was delighted to welcome the airline, adding that Zurich was “an important business link and this new route will offer passengers even more
choice of how they travel. Switzerland is also a popular tourist destination and we’re delighted to be working with Edelweiss to offer Scottish passengers the chance to visit this beautiful country. Of course with the fantastic summer of sport and culture we’re about to enjoy, we’re looking forward to welcoming many Swiss visitors to Edinburgh.”

Since 2008, Edelweiss has been a member of the Lufthansa Group and sister company to Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS). More than 1.3 million passengers a year fly with the airline. The airline’s globally distinctive mark is the famous alpine flower which adorns the Swiss mountain peaks and represents the “little extra” that makes Edelweiss so special. Other new Edelweiss destinations launched in 2014 are Las Vegas, USA and Havana, Cuba.

This week we’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament…if celebrating is the right word. It is certainly the focal point for our current debate over independence, which boils down to the question: just how much power should the parliament have ?

The late John Smith MP Devolution "the settled will"

The late John Smith MP
Devolution “the settled will”

Almost everyone wants it to have more power. Unfortunately we are not being offered a range of powers in the referendum question, only a yes or no to independence. And looking back on it, this is one of the mistakes the Better Together campaign made at the beginning of this whole divisive affair.

John Smith, the Labour leader who’s death 20 years ago has been marked this week with the opening of a new Centre for Public Service at Glasgow University, once famously remarked that devolution was “the settled will” of the Scottish people. It has been anything but settled. John Smith may have started the ball rolling but Donald Dewar kicked it on with his famous remark – “devolution is a process not an event.”

So more powers are being devolved from Westminster all the time, the latest involves half of all income tax, landfill tax, stamp duty on house sales etc. The Better Together parties have promised still more powers, though, disastrously, they’ve not been able to agree on a detailed alternative to independence. Thus the referendum debate has become even more confused and uncertain.

Can David Cameron help create a "united front" against independence?

Can David Cameron help create a “united front” against independence?

The prime minister came to Glasgow on Thursday to try to forge a united front against independence, even invoking the spirit of John Smith. But Mr Cameron’s “sunshine” speech was not exactly helped by the Chancellor back at Westminster who repeated his warning that there can be no currency union after independence. And the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was able to dismiss the spring offensive as a “Tory takeover of the No campaign.”

The referendum has however brought the dying tradition of the public meeting back to life. I was at a referendum debate in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon – sponsored by the local churches – and every seat was taken. I could see steam coming out of peoples’ ears as they tried to keep their feelings under ecclesiastical control. The Church of Scotland – which holds its general assembly this coming week – has called for a service of national reconciliation in St Giles Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in September.

It could be a humbling experience, if the campaigns turn nasty or if the result is close. Perhaps we Scots will be revealed as not the greatest practitioners of democracy in the world. After all, the parliament we have built over the last 15 years is not without its flaws. Its successes I think have included free personal care, free university education, the national parks, the smoking ban and being a national forum. But its failures are legion: the cost, the expenses scandals, its timidity over taxation, its failure to spread power down to local communities and its turgid and ineffective committee system.

Commonwealth Games Ticket fiasco

Commonwealth Games
Ticket fiasco

But parliaments are not the only things that can go wrong. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games suffered humiliation at the hands of their computer experts earlier this week. The sale of the last 100,000 tickets had to be suspended when the on-line and telephone systems designed to handle the stampede collapsed. Then our newest jail, HMP Grampian in Peterhead, which only opened in March, erupted in an old-style riot. Forty prisoners went on the rampage, beating up their new furniture and fittings. Police had to be brought in to restore order.

The brutal world of football also suffered a few shocks this week. The new owner of Hearts, Ann Budge, brought along her new brush on Monday morning and swept away the manager Gary Locke and eight other coaches and players. Instead she’s brought in a former manager Craig Levein and promoted Robbie Neilson to first-team coach. The Paisley club St Mirren have also promoted Tommy Craig from within. And in both cases, the new philosophy seems to be to nurture home-grown players rather than take part in the bidding war for outside talent. Not before time.

About the only place were tranquillity reigns is the European election. There are unlikely to be any riots or stampedes at the voting stations on Thursday. But we are all waiting to see if the SNP increase their number of seats from 2 to 3, whether Labour will keep their two seats and whether the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold on to their single seats or whether they will be taken by the Greens or UKIP. Who would have thought that democracy could be so exciting ?

In just a few days time, the people of the European Union will go to the polls to select their new MEPs. Having just returned from a trip to the Irish Republic, it’s very clear that attitudes there are very different from those in Scotland. In Dublin for example, the streetlamps are festooned with posters with pictures of the various candidates and their assorted parties. Come back to Edinburgh and, by contrast, you would hardly think an election was actually taking place.

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Even allowing for the economic turmoil of the past few years, the Irish have embraced the EU in a way which the peoples of Great Britain have not. Nonetheless, there were many posters which appear to be indicating that enough was enough when it came to economic austerity. That appears to be a common enough attitude across many of the member countries. Euroscepticism appears to have been growing, something borne out by the latest YouGov survey.

That survey confirms a trend lately been building up a head of steam for some considerable time. People across the European Union have been becoming increasingly distrustful of the established political parties and individual politicians in particular. It’s perhaps a surprise that the swing away from the establishment – and indeed support for Europe – looks as though it has been even stronger in France than it has been in parts of this country. Support for the National Front there has grown even more strongly than support for UKIP in England.

Swing to Eurosceptics Source: YouGov

Swing to Eurosceptics
Source: YouGov

The poll did not look at Scotland separately. In recent days, the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has posted that his party will do much better north of the border than anyone had predicted – even taking one of the seats on offer. Few of the pundits agree with him. But there is some concern that the turnout in Scotland may be very low – the focus of so many people and parties is much more on what will happen in September rather than in May.

However what happens in Brussels and Strasbourg is important in determining our future. The evidence from the YouGov survey is that the next European Parliament could well have a very different make up to anything we’ve seen before, with many more politicians being elected from minority parties. However, the analyst to study the results of the survey feel confident that there isn’t a surging tide of nationalism or of anti-EU feeling. Rather, votes for minority parties are being interpreted much more as protests against their politicians at home.

Speaking to people in Dublin, there does appear to be a growing sense of optimism about the future. They can see changes taking place around them – the amount of construction is a good indicator both of economic activity and of confidence. There is no evidence that people there now want to leave the European Union. Few were willing to admit that they would vote for a Eurosceptic party – but several suggested that this year’s result could be closer than anyone would previously have imagined.

This being exam season, Alex Salmond faced a tough test in international relations this week. He travelled to Bruges in Belgium on Monday to spell out how an independent Scotland would be an enthusiastic and positive member of the European Union, unlike Mrs Thatcher who’d used her Bruges speech 25 years ago to voice the UK’s euro-scepticism.

Challenge to minimum price policy

Challenge to minimum price policy

Unfortunately, his speech was overshadowed by two domestic difficulties, the price of alcohol and the living wage. Both are currently the subject of dispute in Europe. The SNP have argued that they are being prevented by EU rules from insisting on the living wage of £7.65 an hour in all public contracts. No so, say the EU mandarins. And on a minimum price for alcohol, the Scotch Whisky Association won a court ruling this week that will allow it to take its case against a minimum price to the European Court on the grounds that it is a restriction on free trade.

Unfortunately too, this was the week when Tony Blair’s old spin-doctor Alastair Campbell published his version of an interview with Mr Salmond, given at the time of the Sochi Olympic Games. It contained a few firecrackers. On whisky he said: “You cannot promote it from a nation of drunks.” On Rupert Murdoch: “ He is a remarkable man…why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media.” And on Vladimir Putin, Mr Salmond said he admired certain aspects of the Russian leader: “ He has restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing.”

Alex Salmond  Under fire over comments

Alex Salmond
Under fire over comments

For these remarks, out of context or not, Mr Salmond got a roasting from all three opposition leaders at first minister’s question time on Thursday. They said he was unfit to represent Scotland on the world stage. Mr Salmond stuck to his text as best he could and said he’d tried in vain to find anything at all the Scottish opposition parties had said about international affairs.

The employers’ organisation the CBI is rather wishing it had not said anything at all about the Scottish referendum. Last week it faced a walk-out of its members over its decision to register as a “No” campaigner. This week, it said it had all been a mistake by a junior official in London. But its u-turn was not as spectacular as that of the other icon of modern capitalism Donald Trump. Last month he was saying he would no longer focus his investments on Scotland – because of the planned wind-farm off his Menie golf course on the Aberdeenshire coast. But this week he invested £35m in the championship course at Turnberry on the Ayrshire coast where Marine Scotland says there is a good wind-farm site just three miles off-shore.

It’s all worthy of an entry in the new Library of Financial Mistakes which was opened in Edinburgh on Tuesday by a man who admitted he’d made a few himself, Norman Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor. The man behind the venture, stockbroker Russell Napier explained its purpose: “The more we know about why smart people do stupid things, the fewer stupid things we might do.”

Elish Angiolini

Elish Angiolini

We could apply those words of wisdom to the scandal of how babies’ ashes were handled at the Mortonhall Crematorium on the south side of Edinburgh. A damning report came out this week from Dame Elish Angiolini detailing how for decades families had been told it was not possible to return the ashes of small babies. But it transpired they had been buried secretly or swept up with the ashes of adults cremated around the same time.

The first minister told parliament that the practice had now changed and that the 250 families concerned were being offered counselling. Futhermore, a more wide-ranging report was being drawn up by Lord Bonomy, covering crematoriums elsewhere in Scotland and legislation would follow, spelling out how the death and burial or cremation of young babies should be handled.

We learned this week that Scotland’s population continues to grow. There were more births than deaths last year and a net inflow into the country of over 10,000 people. There are now 5.3 million of us, the highest number on record. The beaver population is also growing. There are now 19 living in Knapdale in Argyll in the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s official re-introduction programme. The experiment began five years ago with 17 beavers brought over from Norway and a survey has found that 60 per cent of humans questioned supported the idea. However, landowners in Tayside – where there are thought to be 150 unofficial beavers – are not so keen.

Finally, let us praise Britain’s longest-serving post mistress. Mrs Esther Brauer has run the Kylesku Post Office in Sutherland for 61 years. She’s now retiring at the age of 83 because she’s having computer problems. Her little wooden post office over-looking the sea will almost certainly close, and with it a chapter of Highland history.

Has the CBI in Scotland shot itself in the foot? For months, it has been posing dozens of awkward questions about the implications of independence. That is exactly what one would have expected any self-respecting business lobbying group to have done. They were intelligent questions that needed answering, the sort that many people and organisations were themselves asking.

Decision taken nationally

Decision taken nationally

However, its decision nationally to register with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of the “No” campaign has meant that it has lost its impartiality. It seems that this was a UK rather than a Scottish decision. It’s perhaps no surprise that it should have done so – its name, the Confederation of BRITISH Industry, rather gives the game away. But the fact that a growing number of members has now resigned suggests that it hasn’t taken at least some of them with it.

It’s understandable that some bodies funded from the public purse in Scotland should have wanted to distance themselves. Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland, for instance, were amongst the first to go. In a statement, Scottish Enterprise described CBI Scotland’s move as a “political decision”, leaving it with “no choice but to immediately resign”. VisitScotland also insisted that it was “appropriate to withdraw from the organisation”.

Scottish Enterprise logoOthers have now followed. Highlands and Islands Enterprise stated that its own position of the issue was impartial which led it to conclude that it was “inappropriate” for the organisation to remain a member of the CBI. And now, Skills Development Scotland has followed suit. At the weekend, three universities (Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen) and resigned they have now been by Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian. This could prove uncomfortable for CBI Scotland’s director, Iain McMillan, who sits on the advisory board of Strathclyde.

The Law Society of Scotland said it could not retain impartiality as a CBI member. Its chief executive, Lorna Jack, explained that “we do not believe we could credibly retain our impartiality whilst being a member of and actively contributing to another organisation which is formally registered with the Electoral Commission to campaign for a no vote.”

STV - one of the first to resign

STV – one of the first to resign

At the time of writing, three private sector companies – STV, Scottish firms Aquamarine Power and the Balhousie Care Group, confirmed they were quitting CBI and others may follow. Nonetheless, a spokesman for the organisation insisted that it remained “confident we have a mandate from the vast majority of our membership on the question of Scottish independence”

The trouble is that there’s no evidence of such a mandate. The organisation has not produced any supporting material to confirm that an anti-independence resolution was ever passed. It’s one reason that those members in the public and private sectors are considering the positions. And this is damaging the credibility of the CBI as a whole.

The decision has surprised even some of those who do not support the CBI’s views in general. Business for Scotland is avowedly a pro-independence body. In a column in its newsletter, it expressed its astonishment, pointing out that the CBI “did NOT have to take a view against independence.

Surprised at the CBI's decision

Surprised at the CBI’s decision

“It could have raised concerns about particular policy issues or perhaps, more constructively, have given a view on how the powers of independence could be used to grow the private sector, without expressing a definitive view on Yes or No. It could have also questioned the No campaign’s ridiculous scare stories in order to represent a balanced view. But instead, officials couldn’t help themselves. They decided to go one step further by making clear they were against independence.”

There is more than one voice speaking for business in Scotland. The Federation of Small Business and the Institute of Directors have made it clear from the start that they would remain impartial, despite being accused by some of sitting on the fence. But what that does allow them to do is ask the awkward questions of both sides. It means they can be trusted to reflect the doubts expressed by their members. It’s something the CBI can no longer do.

If you want the right person to present on ‘Business in the Asian Century’, one can’t get much better than the Global MD of McKinsey, perhaps the consultant’s consultancy. This was the most recent event for the Asia-Scotland Institute, which promotes awareness and collaboration between one small vibrant nation of rugged mountains with a distant continent that’s 568 times its size and 812 times more populous. We are not afraid!

Dominic Barton (Pic: Wikipedia)

Dominic Barton
(Pic: Wikipedia)

Enter Dominic Barton, a Canadian at the top of his game and, until recently, head of McKinsey’s activities in Korea and Shanghai. With a list of titles that rivals anyone outside the royal family, the Edinburgh audience of a Monday night could only expect a compelling and sincere delivery. From the outset there was complete silence as Mr Barton explained the enormous changes over the next two decades in Asia. There will be further urbanisation into cities, growing life expectancy and a doubling of the middle class. This would be coupled with a shift eastwards of the talent, capital, headquarters and brand strength of new corporate players, many of which operate in unique, local conditions, and are unknown to western markets.

This shall happen, regardless of the Euro or US-cultural hegemony of the current period. Disruptive technologies would enable the transformation. McKinsey names the top five as mobile online, automated knowledge, the internet of things, cloud computing and robotics, each obeying the merciless momentum of Moore’s Law. Eastern industry leaders have no compunction in cross-sector competition: for example, Alibaba, the Chinese online store – Global trade starts here ™ – has successfully entered the loans market because it understands far more about its customers’ habits and needs than your traditional bank. What implications, I ask, does this have to old economies, where things are done a certain way and investment houses are unassailable? Such a brave new world does not respect gentlemen’s agreements.

Mekong River Its water is shared by several countries (Pic: Creative Commons)

Mekong River
Its water is shared by several countries
(Pic: Creative Commons)

And as a backdrop to all this change, the Global MD highlighted an enormous resource scarcity. How do you feed, teach, clothe, transport, shelter and amuse so many more people, each consuming so much more. There will be a 40% gap in water scarcity by 2030, leading to issues between border nations: Ethiopia and Egypt on the Nile; China with Vietnam, which both tap the Mekong. And the sorting of waste, the harnessing of renewable energy, the reduction of pollution – all these will be challenges.

The mood in the room, when I looked around and listened for the falling pin, seemed to be positive. Yes, it was all about challenge, but not how to stop it, nor a fear of it, nor how our lives would be affected adversely because of wealth moving east, but about the potential.

The questions, moderated by Bill Jamieson from the Scotsman, proceeded for half an hour, but all the time I was thinking, and I couldn’t stop these thoughts for the rest of that evening. To me, it was all about how, in a society where we’re unable to rip up everything and start afresh, can we continue to hunt with the tigers. Our rivals are companies so young they can install smart cloud-based systems overnight. Their employees make their homes in cities with streets without trace of dilapidated Victorian infrastructure. They are served by political structures that enable things to happen efficiently without paying lip service to aristocracy, church, state, local bureaucracy and pressure lobbies. No, we have a different legacy, the prize for getting there earlier, the shackles of democracy laid over tradition. Perhaps, after all, it is now the West that has further to go.

The million-dollar question asked of Mr Barton (an answer to which he hadn’t quite figured out) was by how much Asian countries would disrupt the profit pools of individual Western businesses? Answers on a modern postcard via www.nickwilliams.org I’ll forward it on – trust me.

The Asia-Scotland Institute was founded in Edinburgh in 2012 and is chaired by Roddy Gow.

———

NWNick Williams may be known best for his Pocket Mountains guides to the Highlands and Islands, but he has also trained as a mountaineering instructor and has thirty years of experience climbing all over the world. He organised the first international expedition to post-Soviet Kazakhstan and written a memoir, Jagged Red Line, which describes adventure and trauma in the Caucasus. Nick works as a coach and consultant, specialising in resilience for individuals and organisations. He speaks French, Mandarin and Russian.

By Mark Winskel, University of Edinburgh

Both the Scottish and UK governments have published new contributions on the energy and independence debate in recent days. Energy Secretary Ed Davey visited Edinburgh to coincide with the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s 100-page “command paper” on the subject.

It was far more substantial than the Scottish government’s 11-page publication, which was released two days before. For the Scottish media this was a headline news item, with both Davey and Fergus Ewing, his Scottish counterpart, giving interviews.

The UK government paper presents detailed arguments and cost estimates for the historic, current and future benefits to Scotland of being part of an integrated GB energy market. It emphasises that Scottish businesses and consumers enjoy substantial net benefits from being part of the UK.

For example, the costs of renewable energy subsidies are supported by all UK electricity bill payers, and almost 30% of the total goes to wind farms and other generators based in Scotland. This is despite the fact that Scotland accounts for only around 10% of UK electricity sales.

Grid and other benefits

DECC’s report points to similar benefits from supporting Scottish electricity grid investment (key for getting renewable energy to users further south) and subsidising remote and off-grid Scottish consumers.

As costs grow in the next few years to meet policy targets for decarbonisation and renewables expansion, DECC estimates that Scottish consumers would pay between £38 and £189 extra per head each year on their energy bills by 2020 if the country was independent.

Other costs and risks of independence are also set out: the threat posed to major Scottish-based but UK-funded public investments such as the Green Investment Bank, which is based in Edinburgh; and the proposed Peterhead carbon capture and storage demonstration plant – one of two in the UK earmarked for support through the UK Government’s £1 billion support fund (the other is in Yorkshire).

DECC also notes a broader problem of attracting capital for a newly independent small country – touching on the bigger issue of currency stability in the absence of a shared pound.

The Scottish response

The Scottish government’s statement is not a systematic and detailed counter to the UK government’s arguments. Instead it describes how Whitehall has mismanaged energy policy.

The Scottish government has to tread a delicate line here, arguing the failure of current arrangements while also noting successes such as the growth of the Scottish renewables sector and continued oil and gas revenues.

The main points of criticism are underinvestment and the looming capacity crunch in UK electricity supply; Conservative/Lib Dem divisions on energy policy leading to loss of investor confidence; and the UK’s costly commitment to new nuclear power stations.

The Scottish government claims its own approach to energy policy has been “clear and consistent”. In contrast to DECC’s arguments about the subsidy benefits to Scotland from GB market integration, this report talks about how the UK relies on Scotland to “keep the lights on” by acting as its energy reserve.

Compare and contrast

Read alongside each other, the Scottish paper is more selective and overtly political. There has been a lack of detail in the Scottish government’s statements on energy matters and independence to date, though that may change with the imminent report from the Scottish Regulatory Commission on Energy Regulation.

As with the currency question, the Scottish government essentially argues for continuity after independence: continued operation of an integrated GB market reflecting common interests in energy supply security and the growth of low carbon generation.

The UK government argues that independence would lead to losing the benefits of integration, with post-independence governments and regulators on each side of the border required by statute to serve self-interest rather than common interests.

Admittedly, this ignores wider factors. DECC argues the case for the benefits of scale and integration but at the same time the UK faces a possible withdrawal from the EU after the 2015 general election.

For the Scottish government, the largely unanswered question is: “What is Plan B if the UK government refuses to recognise the common interests in an energy partnership after independence?”

As with independence matters more generally, undecided voters are left frustrated by the absence in much of the public debate of a balanced and thorough analysis of the claims and counter claims.

This piece is one of two that The Conversation has published on this subject today. The other can be read here.

The Conversation

Mark Winskel receives funding from the EPSRC, NERC and ESRC. Mark’s views are his own and not those of the UK Energy Research Centre.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

By Peter Strachan, Robert Gordon University

The twin goals of UK energy policy should be to ensure security of supply for households and businesses, and to ensure the electricity we use is affordable. Unfortunately, the current UK coalition government is failing on both fronts.

In particular its flagship initiative, Electricity Market Reform, has led to a hiatus in energy investment. This is very bad news for England. In effect we are now seeing a critical reduction in our spare energy capacity, which will eventually see electricity costs spiral out of control. For London this might well mean the lights going out post-2015.

Self-sufficient Scotland

As Scotland exports approximately one quarter of the electricity it generates, this is not such a problem for Edinburgh. In recent years this has been bolstered by a truly world class renewables industry. Scotland now produces nearly the equivalent of 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as onshore wind and hydro. This will increase to around 70% by 2017.

I strongly reject Ed Davey’s announcement that if Scotland votes yes then Scottish electricity bills would increase. This can be seen in a comprehensive report that I published with colleagues from a number of universities from across the United Kingdom in December.

To summarise some very complex arguments, as a result of the coalition government’s decision to fund new nuclear build, we found that a Scottish government committed to no nuclear build would actually see reductions in consumer electricity bills compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. Scottish consumers would not be subsidising the hundreds of billions of pounds of investment that new English nuclear power stations require.

DECC’s big budget drain

Already the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spends £2.5 billion or 42% of its annual budget on existing nuclear legacy. Of that, £1.6bn is spent on managing the waste at Sellafield alone.

In its misguided aspirations the coalition government is now writing a blank cheque for new nuclear. At a time of unprecedented financial austerity this is somewhat astonishing.

Under no scenario can I see electricity bills in an independent Scotland increasing along the lines outlined by Ed Davey. Even without an integrated electricity market, Scotland would be able to sell its electricity to England at commercial rates. England currently has to resource much of its electricity requirement from Scotland; there is no alternative source for the majority of it. It is pure fantasy on the part of Ed Davey to suggest otherwise.

Scotland offers an excellent model of how to deliver a world-class energy policy. The coalition government could learn much from us.

This piece is one of two that The Conversation has published on this subject today. The other can be be read here.

The Conversation

Peter Strachan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

A report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB) has claimed that Scotland has the worst mobile coverage in the UK. Citing the Scottish government’s own research, the organisation wants the planning rules relaxed to allow development which would boost coverage.

Andy Willox Change the rules to improve coverage

Andy Willox
Change the rules to improve coverage

Although the Government has said that it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland”, the evidence suggests that over a quarter of the country doesn’t enjoy adequate coverage. For the FSB, that isn’t good enough with Andy Willox, its Scottish policy convenor, insisting that good quality mobile phone coverage for businesses was not a luxury but a necessity.

“Too much of Scotland doesn’t have adequate mobile phone coverage,” he said. “Our members tell us that new technology will be vital to grow their business and our visitors tell us that they want to use their mobile devices if they’re in the centre of Edinburgh or on the Isle of Mull.

“We’re writing to the Scottish government backing their proposals to amend the planning system and improve Scotland’s levels of connectivity. But that can’t be the end of the story. Businesses and their customers across Scotland want better coverage and we must see bold action to ensure that no part of the country is left behind. It is unacceptable that a quarter of Scotland doesn’t even have a 2G signal.”

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

The evidence comes from a Scottish government report, published last autumn, which acknowledged that more than a quarter of the country had 2G coverage that was either “fair” or “poor”. What that means is that users would find the signal was “insufficient for good quality connection”. By combining data from a number of sources such the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scotrail, it also reached the conclusion that the majority of Scotland’s land mass lacked good quality 3G coverage.

Mr Willox went on to say that the figures suggested that “Scotland has the worst coverage amongst UK nations. We must get to grips with this problem before our businesses lose out to better connected competitors and visitors don’t come to Scotland for fear of being cut off from the rest of the planet.”

In a statement, the Scottish Government said it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland. Achieving widespread 4G coverage, whilst ensuring that the gap between those who do not receive 3G or even 2G services does not widen, is a priority. The proposals will encourage operators to make use of existing sites.”

mobile phone research