Brexit leads to grave fear for future of Scots energy transition

Anni Doyle's photo which was shortlisted for the Whitelee Windfarm.
Photo issued by ScottishPower Renewables of Anni Doyle's photo which was shortlisted for the Whitelee Windfarm.
Dick Winchester
Opinion by Dick Winchester

I don’t belong to a political party, and haven’t for a very long time. I always find that at some level they disappoint.

Maybe I should form a new one for the huge number of people who I am sure must feel the same way.

Just kidding. Brexit, though, forces us to think about politics. Like the majority in Scotland I voted to remain in the European Union.

After all, I’ve had EU research and development grants, EU contracts, and worked in or visited most countries in the bloc. Plus, I still have some very good friends in France.

That’s a hangover from spending about seven years working for an Anglo-French subsea company and living just outside Marseille while I was operations manager. I’ve led a hard life – ho ho!

I do, however, empathise with those who voted to leave because most were articulating their discontent with their lot and with the behaviour of the “elite” – that’s the politicians and many others who run the UK.

They are right to feel that way.

This is now a country of massive inequality and what I personally notice, mostly, is that where once the UK was so productive and innovative that it was considered the workshop of the world, it’s now an industrial lightweight.

Consequently my own concerns are often triggered because some other country has shown us up once again by succeeding in developing technologies we’re not even looking at seriously – or worse, as I discussed last month, pretending we’re world leaders in a sector when we’re not.

Either that or once again we’ve sold off a good company to a foreign competitor, allowed one to be killed off due to lack of investment, or lost yet another contract to an overseas company because we don’t have the resources or hardware needed to tackle it. Look at most UK Continental Shelf projects for the evidence of that.

The general economic malaise, the growth in and the insecurity of the so-called “gig” economy and the increase in zero-hours contracts, child poverty, homelessness, the lousiest state pension by a long shot among the EU members, ridiculously high house prices and, of course, austerity policies, generally, while claiming we’re the fifth or sixth largest economy on the planet, have all led to distrust and discontent.

As for the financial sector – the unfortunate engine of the British economy – then one look at the level of criminality, greed, corruption and fraud numerous companies have been found guilty of recently tells you all you need to know about their lack of value to the real economy and society.

Professor Mariana Mazzucato, of University College London, summed it up perfectly when she said the financial sector is an “extractor of value” rather than a “creator of value”, and isn’t helping to drive the strategic, long-term innovation that societies need if they are to thrive in the 21st Century.

Claims that Brexit will provide considerably more opportunities for trade are risible when we can’t even make use of the opportunities we have now.

Anyway, a UK company can already trade with another company anywhere on the planet, and some regularly do.

The EU does not prevent that. It’s just another lie.

As industrial powerhouses go, the UK could have been as big as Germany.

Instead its politicians imposed an ideology that financialised everything and that led to a predominately service-based and wholly unbalanced economy.

People who voted Leave because they believe the status quo is unacceptable were right – it is. The problem is that Brexit won’t fix that.

The UK is suffering from a sort of post-imperial, mid-life crisis, the main symptom of which is a belief in British exceptionalism and that all the issues that led to the leave vote were caused by being in the evil EU.

They weren’t. They were all of our own making,

What it will do, however, is make us poorer, reduce opportunities for employment and significantly reduce the chance of growing those industries we need to give future generations the chance of a cleaner, heathier planet.

I have grave concerns about the future of the Scottish energy sector.

Any level of Brexit is going to be bad news.

Loss of freedom of movement, lower investment, a collapse in EU research and development funding, the likelihood of supply chain companies moving out, these issues and many others are all going to hit hard.

Worse, the energy transition process will be at best interrupted or at worst killed off, and what hopes I and others have for the development of a vibrant Scottish renewables manufacturing sector will be thwarted.

Fortunately, Scotland has a potential escape route namely, independence.

From an economic, industrial and even social standpoint it’s maybe time to make use of that.

2019 truly scares me stiff.

Dick Winchester is a member of the Scottish Energy Advisory Board