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SNP delegates call for creation of a national energy company

Scottish National Party updates

The Scottish National party’s autumn conference on Saturday called for creation of a national energy company — an implicit rebuke to SNP leader and first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who promised such a venture four years ago but has not delivered.

The online conference backed by 527 votes to six the creation of national company to “set the standard for Scottish clean power production”, prioritise use of Scottish equipment and provide affordable power to “consumers of limited means”.

Sturgeon made the promise of a Scottish public energy company the highlight of her speech to the SNP’s 2017 autumn conference, saying it would secure low prices, particularly for those on low incomes.

However, the first minister’s government has since backed away from the idea, which was not mentioned in its agenda for the next year published on Tuesday. Instead, the SNP’s programme for government promised a “national public energy agency” tasked with accelerating change in energy use, increasing public understanding and coordinating investment.

Speaking for Saturday’s conference motion, delegate Marianna Clyde contrasted the national energy company announced in 2017 with an agency she said appeared to be merely advisory.

“I feel we must do much, much more than simply advise the Scottish public and local authorities on energy efficiency measures,” Clyde said, accusing UK energy regulators of undermining the development of Scottish renewable power with “unfair” connection charges.

“Without access to energy markets, our vast renewable energy resources are rendered somewhat meaningless,” she said.

The inability to deliver the promised public energy company has given ammunition to critics of the SNP, who accuse it of failing to meet promises such as a high-profile pledge to close the education attainment gap between better and worse-off school pupils.

In June, Lorna Slater, co-leader of the Scottish Green party, pressed Sturgeon on the lack of progress on a national energy company, suggesting failure to act on one would undermine Scotland’s nascent tidal power industry.

However, the goal of creating such a company was not included in an SNP-Green power-sharing deal sealed last month under which Slater joined the government as minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity.

Asked about the vote, the SNP said the conference had “made clear its support for the accelerated decarbonisation of Scotland’s energy supply and usage, including supporting the creation of a Scottish national energy company”.

But the party declined to comment on why it had been previously unable to set such a company up or whether it would now seek to do so.

The opposition Scottish Conservatives said the conference move to revive the energy company plan showed the SNP was “tired and out of ideas”.

“Like so many of their pledges over the years, it was all headlines and no substance,” said Liam Kerr, Tory shadow energy secretary.

While some SNP members are dissatisfied with its recent performance in government and failure to secure a second referendum on independence from the UK, Sturgeon remains highly popular within the party and enjoys a huge lead over opposition rivals in public opinion polls.

Sturgeon aims to hold a rerun of the 2014 referendum, in which voters in Scotland rejected independence by 55-45 per cent, before the end of 2023.

However, she has yet to set a timescale for legislation for a second referendum, which will anyway face legal challenge since the UK government insists that its approval is needed for any such vote.

In an online speech on Saturday, Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader, made no mention of such obstacles, insisting voters had the right to choose their constitutional future once the coronavirus crisis was passed.

“It is a manifesto promise we made to the Scottish people — it is a democratic promise we will keep,” Blackford said.

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