A PROMINENT Humza Yousaf-backer has cast doubt on whether he can achieve one of his key policy pledges.  

Shona Robison said the Scottish Government had been “limited” by devolution when conducted the controversial ScotWind auction last year – throwing doubt on the SNP leadership hopeful’s promise to require the state to have a 10% stake in future offshore wind projects.  

Speaking at the Scotonomics Festival of Economics conference in Dundee on Saturday, the Social Justice Secretary defended the Government’s policy of selling off swathes of the Scottish seabed at what critics said was a discount rate. 

The minister said it was the “the best we could within the levers that we have”.  

The ScotWind auction was controversial, with pro-Yes think tank Common Weal describing the move as likely to have been a “financial disaster for Scotland” and arguing the public purse had potentially been denied “tens of billions of pounds in auction fees and supply chain developments”.   

'We did the best we could' 

Robison (below) said: “There are absolutely limitations around what we can do because a lot of levers around energy policy are not ours, a lot of the powers are not ours… 

The National:

“What I could say to you though is, we were looking at what the expected revenue is going to be from ScotWind and what’s coming down the line in terms of Intog, which is the innovations and targeted oil and gas leasing, which is going to generate significant revenues for the Scottish Government budget over the next few years.  

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“So I think we probably did the best we could, in terms of the limitations we have to make sure that we were going to get revenues for the Scottish budget, even under a devolved context.” 

She added: “So looking to the future, is there more potential there? Of course there is but I think the best scenario, we did the best we could within the levers that we have and those revenues and Intog as well is going to become really quite important in the future.” 

Questioned on whether anything had changed in the devolution settlement to allow the Scottish Government to guarantee more income from future projects, Robison said she did not know but insisted the deal was the best as could have been achieved at the time. 

She told The National: “I wasn’t part of the negotiations around that time but as I understand what was gained, in terms of ScotWind, was the best situation that could have been gained at the time. 

"I’m aware that during the leadership campaign, Humza Yousaf has talked about trying to take a public stake and that’s something that will need to be explored but I think probably at the time, trying to nail down the contracts around ScotWind, the best deal was gained within the timeframe and the availability of what could be done at that moment in time.” 

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Speaking on the campaign trail earlier on Saturday, Yousaf said last year’s ScotWind auction had been a “tremendous success”.  

He said: “What I would say is we’re building upon the legacy. I think ScotWind has been a tremendous success, it’s clearly going to help us in terms of our funding and finance for future years, but I think we can go further.  

“It’s about building upon what has been an excellent legacy and a progressive agenda over the last 16 years.” 

'Scotland must nationalise renewables'

Craig Dalzell, Common Weal’s head of policy and research who investigated the downsides of the auction, said: “The Scottish Government should be looking at various mechanisms within its power to take equity stakes in ScotWind and, indeed, all renewable energy in Scotland.  

“The most direct would be to adopt a "no subsidy" principle on these projects - if companies want or need public investment alongside their own then it should be on the basis of directly buying equity rather than just doling out ‘free’ money. 

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“Other opportunities will come along over the next few years as the companies who are already involved in ScotWind develop their projects.  

“In common with many large schemes like this, companies will trade their options or shares in their fields with other companies before, during and after construction of the turbines.  

“The Scottish Government should look for opportunities to buy in when these trades happen and could even explore demanding first refusal rights on any trades. 

“Most importantly though, while an equity-only ‘silent partner’ stake in ScotWind would bring some short and medium-term gain, the long-term potential of Scottish renewables will only be realised if we launch an asset-owned public energy company who can be actively involved in the development and running of these assets and with an intentional strategy to progressively renationalise all of Scotland's renewables so that they can be run for the Scottish public good, not merely for the enrichment of a few shareholders.”