2007 - 2021

Supporting Social Cohesion and Communities in Scotland


Dear Lord Smith and the Smith Commission,

That Scotland be granted substantial control of its own taxation and spending in general terms is not overly controversial, but in particular the settlement needs to include control of energy policy and revenues. To be explicit this must include responsibility for the regulation, licencing, royalties and tariffs for mineral and other natural resource exploitation in Scottish territory, whether on or off-shore. The ability thus to manage extraction, investment and subsidy is essential to ensure the inevitable transition to a low carbon economy is done in a way which also transitions the communities currently invested in oil and gas or similarly unsustainable industries. This must be done more thoughtfully and humanely than it was by Westminster during the transition from coal and steel related industries during the 1980’s

A universal interest in this issue arises in the prevention of catastrophic climate change. This affects all of us inside or outside of the UK or Europe, but the economic and social disaster provoked if Scotland fails to invest the remaining oil and gas revenues in adapting it’s energy and related engineering sectors to new technologies is a distinctly Scottish concern. The global necessity to divest from fossil fuels could massively and disproportionally impact Scotland if mis-managed. The necessary re-investment in renewables needs to be done more rapidly and with greater priority and leadership than it has been tackled by the UK so far, or is likely to be in the context of the UK’s more diverse economy and differing needs. The transition needs to be managed by the people, communities, institutions and businesses which have the expertise and knowledge to do so, and most importantly with the involvement and consent of those whose families must live most closely with the consequences. If mis-managed from Holyrood it will be a disaster. If mis-managed from Westminster then the social upheaval and unrest would almost certainly break the union, probably with an acrimony and at a cost that would serve neither side; of the debate or the border.

Further to this principle of supporting social cohesion and communities; regulation, planning and licencing of all energy production or generation facilities, including fracking and particularly nuclear, needs to be with Holyrood. The potential trans-generational impact of nuclear deployment, whether energy or weapons related, cannot be overstated, and has been demonstrated with great tragedy several times, most recently in Fukushima. The political union with Westminster is only 300 years old, the consequences of accident or attack on a nuclear facility could be felt for many times that period, once again, massively and disproportionately in the areas where those facilities are placed. The Scottish people absolutely have the right to determine whether they wish to continue living with risks of such enormously destructive consequence.

On the matter of fiscal policy in general, again uncontroversially, complete fiscal autonomy is neither likely, practical nor desirable to most in the UK as an outcome: To avoid lingering uncertainty, some binding agreement or formula must be negotiated regarding ownership and management of Sterling, the role of the Bank of England, and the liability for associated national debts. To provide stability this needs to be a binding agreement that shares sovereignty over the currency independently of current political unions, or constitutional arrangements both within the UK or with the EU. The destabilising and divisive effect of the currency question on the independence debate and the damaging consequences on both sides of the border of continued doubt in global markets, cannot be denied. It can, and should, be settled, and further politicisation and damaging speculation thus avoided by the commission. Such action would greatly benefit the entire UK and all users of Sterling, regardless of whatever political or constitutional uncertainties may remain unresolved or for how long.

Further to the currency question is the more general question of our relationship with Europe. The ideal solution would be the formal recognition of Scotland’s position in and by the E.U. as substantially guaranteed, regardless of it’s constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK . Whilst EU assent to this may be beyond the power or scope of the Commission to deliver, at the very least, the Scottish Parliament must be granted right of veto both to any adoption of the Euro by the UK, or the removal of Scotland from the EU. Major constitutional changes such as these cannot be imposed by English or UK majority where they are contrary to the will of the Scottish people. Expressed alternatively: If in any referendum on further participation with the EU, there were a difference in outcomes between the nations, then any prosecution of those separate outcomes would each have to be unilateral. The English, Welsh and Irish peoples have as much right to self-determination as the Scots, and this too should be explicitly recognised in the settlement even if English political reform, as with E.U. reform, lies beyond the commissions ability to guarantee.

To save much drafting and time, and to assuage any reasonable interpretation of the settlement as falling short of the undertakings given by UK party leaders in the days preceding the referendum; most of these fair and reasonable democratic requirements could be achieved in one line of text if the Scottish government were to be recognised as rightful executor of all powers invested in the Crown, for all territories North of the agreed boundary. Derogation from that basic position would devolve whatever powers must be ceded to Westminster for the sake of the Union, including, if necessary, lend/lease arrangements pertaining to defence establishments regarded as of overriding strategic necessity to the UK. Such arrangements could potentially, as with Sterling, remain binding for a term long enough to promote stability and security regardless of any future proposals or changes to the existing constitutional arrangements, but short enough not to preclude the expression or execution of a public desire for radical change.

Whilst my role managing the media archives of Greenpeace International perhaps lends me an unusual perspective on some of these issues I must make it clear that other than where indicated otherwise, these are my personal views and not necessarily those of Greenpeace International. You may contact me directly if you wish any further detail.


Stephen Cairns

Greenpeace International

Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Annette says:

    Indeed. And to say that a nuclear accident could cause damage for several times three hundred years is a massive understatement. Nuclear waste will be around and lethal for hundreds of thousands of years. With every gram we are adding to that deadly heritage, we are committing further crimes against all generations to come.

  2. David McGill says:

    If everyone who writes to the Smith Commission takes the opportunity to spell out the details of their personal agenda as to how tax raised in Scotland under any new powers should be spent, Lord Smith will still be reading them at this time next year. And anyway spending in Scotland will be determined by future Scottish Governments, so vote wisely and tell them. Better perhaps to point out to Lord Smith that you understand that the ‘vow’ is linked to promises of ‘Home Rule’ as referred to by Gordon Brown and should therefore be ‘devo-max’ ie all tax-gathering and spending powers other than defence, foreign policy and currency.

  3. bringiton says:

    Made the point to Lord Smith that unless the Scottish Parliament is made permanent and can only be dismantled by a plebiscite of the Scottish electorate,then any powers “given” by Westminster could be rescinded at any time by undemocratic means (as happend recently with the HoL and legislation relating to energy controls in Scotland).

  4. davidmccann24 says:

    It is really important theat every individual should send the Smith Commission their own ideas on the powers to be devolved under his remit. The points above are well made, so get sending to

  5. davidmccann24 says:

    Seems the email does not embed(or I dont know how to do it so here it is without the brackets… haveyoursay@smith-commission.scot

  6. Crubagan says:

    Then challenge in devolving energy policy (which has its advantages, bringing decisions closer to the people affected) is the effect it will have on renewables in Scotland. At the moment, costs for generation and transmission are greater than conventional energy, and are spread accross a population of 60 million. If they are only spread accross 5 million, then we will not be able to support current investment.

    “destabilising and divisive effect of the currency question on the independence debate and the damaging consequences on both sides of the border of continued doubt in global markets, cannot be denied.”

    I think this one is a bit odd. An independent country needs its own currency (Norway, Iceland and Denmark all manage it!) and this was one of the SNP’s weak spots in the campaign. The No side mishandled their attack, but still drew blood. A costed transition to a Scottish currency is needed – you can’t even join the euro without first having operated your own currency!

  7. I totally take the point about the economics of scale in energy policy. The report linked to relates to the European Super Grid which puts this investment into the context of not 5 or 60, but 500 million people. In marked contrast to Westminster’s short sighted grasp of fracking as an instant boost to the treasury, the Scottish government has recognised and supported the unique and significant role that Scotland could play in this pan-european project, and understood how essential it will be in shaping what kind of nation Scotland will be fifty years from now. This grid is the future of energy in Europe, even if as a previous poster noted, we must continue to “vote wisely and tell them” to ensure that Scotland secures jobs developing, building and operating this infrastructure, rather than passively providing picturesque sites for it’s deployment. The issue of perceived “greater cost” for renewables lies largely in the subsidies and incentives provided to non-renewable sources – The Mika Minio-Paluello piece, also linked to, details amongst other things how the Norwegian sector generates over twice as much tax per barrel as the UK sector, which has the second lowest tax regime in the world. Think of the competition we had to beat for that accolade and please don’t read the full article if you already can already feel your blood-pressure rising .

    With the currency question : Notwithstanding any vows to the contrary, or how they choose to present it, I would expect the Smith Commission to interpret their remit as advising Westminster on what powers it must cede in order to sustain a functional union for “a generation”. Their best chance may be a slim one, but I believe it rests on addressing the issues that most divided Scots voters in ways which can most unite them again. This provides that solution, even if from a unionist perspective it disarms what proved to be Better Together’s most effective strategic asset. I’m not a natural fan of borders; independence or nae, my overriding desire is to secure a green and peaceful future for those I love, under whatever flag they choose. I’d hate the commission to miss an opportunity to help secure that right because they were afraid of what flag a united Scotland might be flying “next time” if things don’t improve in the UK as a whole.

  8. The human race is doomed without nuclear power, without it German carbon emission have been going up, they may be pro renewables but they are also pro coal, so if its good enough for Lovelock and Hansen its good enough for me. Scotland is so close to being carbon free, not having Nuclear energy would make this so much harder. I am pro renewables, but I would like to see land reform, so the Scottish people can benefit not the rich landowners, and our energy resource should be community owned, not profits going to a foreign company. plus we must respect the SNH Scottish wild land map, and keep this area free of renewables, if we don’t respect nature then their is no point in even trying to deal with climate change as the game is over.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.