Independence threatens a ground-breaking environmental project and the prospect of up to 1,000 jobs in the north-east, opponents have claimed.
Serious doubts have been raised about the willingness of the Department of Environment and Climate Change to invest up to £1billion in the carbon capture and storage (CCS) scheme planned for Peterhead power station.
It and the coal-fired White Rose plant in Yorkshire are the preferred bidders for Westminster’s CCS fund. Ministers are expected to make a decision in 2015 – after next autumn’s referendum into Scotland’s future.
If the Shell-SSE scheme wins approval it would be the first full-scale CCS project in the world – capable of storing up to 10million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the gas power plant and pumping it into the depleted Goldeneye gas reservoir under the North Sea.
Officially, Westminster says it is business as usual, and that nothing is on hold as a result of the constitutional debate. However, some are questioning the likelihood of the DECC putting money into what may become a foreign country.
UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey is on record stating he would have to “think twice” about investment if Scotland splits from the UK.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has vowed to “bat” for Peterhead, come what may, saying he does not want to see worthwhile projects written off by Whitehall because of the independence debate.
But the UK support for Peterhead underlined the benefits of the union, he added.
“Countries invest in other countries – we see that all the time – but they usually do that when they are satisfied there is not something in their own country,” Mr Carmichael said.
“The very existence of this competition illustrates there are other options for the rest of the United Kingdom should Scotland choose to walk away.”
Mid Scotland and Fife Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “If Scotland votes for independence there is absolutely no way the government of a foreign country will be funding projects of this nature in Scotland.”
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald believes the DECC will opt to split the £1billion between Peterhead and White Rose if the UK remains intact, but warned: “Clearly, in the event of Scotland voting to leave the UK that would not happen.
“There would be no prospect of the UK Government handing over £500million to another government in order to carry forward the carbon capture project,” he said.
SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson, whose Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency includes Peterhead, said the UK’s energy needs were so closely intertwined that the south would continue to rely on Scotland for electricity.
He insisted that the Scottish Government’s involvement in this and other Westminster-led issues – such as support for Aberdeen and Dundee’s bids for the UK City of Culture title in 2017 – proved business was not on hold.
“These are precisely the bits of evidence that show we do not take anything for granted,” he said.
“We’ll campaign for what is right for our communities and people and, at the point of independence, the situation we are in then becomes the responsibility of an independent Scotland.
“We cannot put government on hold because we are campaigning as many of the projects involved are inevitably long term.”