Getting the Northern and Western Isles connected to the UK grid is absolutely crucial to their economic future, and for some time the Scottish and UK Governments have been working jointly to make this happen.
I had thought that the UK Government were as committed as we are. UK Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom attended the Islands Delivery Working Group last autumn, and the Prime Minister personally pledged his own support for the connection of the isles in a letter to Angus Campbell of Western Isles Council.
But it now looks as if tawdry political considerations are getting in the way. Not for the first time, the UK Government’s ideological obsession against renewable energy is jeopardising jobs and investment in Scotland.
If the Tories are going to scrap support for this project now, as they are apparently contemplating, it would be the most blatant betrayal of Scotland by Westminster that I have come across in my Ministerial career of nine years.
The connections to the islands will be a “win-win” – for the UK energy market, but more importantly for the islands themselves.
They will use the very best wind resources in the UK – and will be cheaper than offshore wind. If UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd’s main concern is to get the best price for the bill payer, as she claims, it would be absolutely perverse for her to abandon her existing support for these projects in favour of more expensive ones.
The grid connections will also pave the way for development of wave and tidal energy, at a time when Scotland should see the largest tidal stream array worldwide installed in the Pentland Firth.
The tens of millions of annual income from islands renewables, could, for example, be used to tackle the fuel poverty on the islands by enabling Energy Efficiency measures to be installed in every house that needs it.
Moreover, with the substantial community share of ownership and benefit from projects on the Islands, the socio-economic benefits will be enormous and potentially game-changing.
The SNP Government remains absolutely committed to this project – it is time for the UK Government to dispel the doubts and reaffirm the pledge made by the Prime Minister himself.
Fergus Ewing is Minister for Business, Energy & Tourism