Bag piper beside wind turbine in Scotland


Very soon, Scotland may have its first opportunity in 307 years to end UK-rule and gain independence, stand alone as a state and, crucially, fend for itself.

To describe this as a hot topic in the press would be a massive understatement (especially north of the border, where only one other topic of conversation has got cabbies in the capital more animated: *whispers* trams).

The truth is, it is understandably difficult to measure, speculate or indeed prove just how successful an independent country could be until it gains such independence.

However, the debate has raised more than a few interesting points on energy, and the power that this comparatively small stretch of land seemingly has access to.

A couple of weeks ago was fortunate enough to discuss just this in a pretty full and frank interview with the man at the centre of the debate; First Minister of Scotland and head of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond. Rightfully renowned as a champion of Scotland’s energy potential, Salmond used the opportunity to demystify a few facts and figures that have been brought to the table.

Even without our offshore oil and gas reserves, Scotland currently has the third highest output per head in the U.K., after London and the South-East. And when oil and gas output is included, Scotland’s output per head is 15 percent above the U.K. average,” he said.

And it’s easy to see why such large numbers are being thrown about too. If Scotland did gain independence it would effectively own a 90% geographic share of North Sea oil and gas fields. Or to put it another way, 81% of current UK oil and gas receipts. Or to put it an even more significant way: access to oil and gas worth $9.67 – $19.34 billion annually.

But an abundance of fossil fuels hardly equates to a greener future, does it? In response to this Alex Salmond has proposed an oil fund – a managed and developed pot which would be invested during financially solid years and dipped into during any economic downturns.

It certainly sounds like a good idea, but sceptics have been quick to suggest that by ‘economic downturn’, Salmond actually means ‘when the renewable technologies under-deliver’. Statistically though, there doesn’t seem to be much suggestion that Scotland won’t meet it’s quite exceptional 100% renewable electricity target by 2020.

In 2011 alone renewable generation in Scotland was up by 28.1% from 2009 and the current practical offshore renewables resource has been estimated at 206 GW. By harnessing even a third of this Scotland could meet its own domestic electricity needs seven times over.

Any investment in harnessing this sort of potential isn’t just speculative or determined on a yes-vote though; it’s already underway. Ministers announced this week that four Scottish renewables companies will compete for the £10 million Saltire Prize– a competition set up to encourage the development of wave and tidal energy devices in Scottish waters – and consent has already been given for a 10-megawatt tidal power array in the Sound of Islay, which would be the world’s largest consented wave or tidal stream project.

In fact the Scottish energy industry is said to have made an investment of £2.8 billion since 2009, supporting around 11,000 jobs. “These figures show Scotland’s renewables industry is very much bucking the economic trend.” Said Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables.

Of course not all of Scotland’s existing renewables solutions have proved favourable, especially for certain American oligarchs who fear that their view from the 9th could be compromised. However, from a community level the threat that the likes of giant wind turbines provide is indeed very real; as after energy, tourism is arguably Scotland’s key cash cow.

Giant rotating blades dotted around the coastline may put the fear up small communities who rely on their scenery for tourism (or even a livelihood in the case of fishing villages like Anstruther), but again there seems to be effective ways round even this.

Community-owned islands like Gigha and Eigg have been real success-stories in generating their own electricity and, if anything, have possibly put themselves even more on the tourist map by taking energy generation into their own hands.