ON the final day of the SNP's virtual conference, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon finally gave us some certainty about the timing of the second Scottish independence referendum, or at least as much certainty as is possible when we are dealing with the inherently unpredictable course of a global pandemic.

She announced that the campaign to persuade a majority in Scotland that this country's future is best served as an independent nation will begin in earnest early next year, with the ground being laid during the course of 2022 for an independence vote sometime in 2023.

The case for independence which is to be made in the campaign that lies ahead will be different in certain key aspects from the case that was made during the 2014 referendum campaign. That campaign had considerable focus on Scotland's oil and gas resources and the country's potential as a fossil fuel producer. 

In an age when we are acutely aware of the need to combat the climate crisis, the new campaign will place the emphasis on Scotland's immense potential as a producer of renewable energy from clean sources. While we were constantly warned by Better Together and the British nationalist parties in 2014 that the oil was going to run out, they won't be able to tell us that the wind will stop blowing or that the tides will stop flowing. 

It is estimated that Scotland possesses 25% of the entire wind energy potential for the whole of Europe and some 10% of wave energy potential, a technology which is only just being developed for large-scale commercial energy generation.

Together with the developing technologies for harnessing tidal energy, the total renewable electricity generating capacity of Scotland may be 60GW or more, more than enough to supply Scotland's domestic needs and to create a significant surplus which could be exported.

The Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney has been described as the Saudi Arabia of tidal power due to its immense potential. Scotland also has the potential for significant tidal energy projects off the West Coast.

Scotland already exports almost 30% of the electricity it generates to the rest of the UK, which, being classified by the UK National Grid as a domestic supply, incurs substantial charges on producers. As an independent state, Scotland would be in a position to negotiate a much better rate for the power it exports to England and Wales.

All these arguments will be key in the coming referendum campaign. Scotland has the potential to become a renewable energy powerhouse, a potential which we can only unleash as an independent nation.

However, the biggest difference from 2014 will surely be Scotland's relations with Europe and the EU.  It is a fact that the quickest and most reliable way for Scotland to rejoin the European Single Market and Customs Union and for Scottish citizens to regain the rights of freedom of movement stripped from us by Brexit – whether as a full member of the EU, or as a member of EFTA and the European Economic Area – is as an independent nation. This will of course raise questions about Scotland's border with England for which we must have convincing and plausible answers.

The campaign proper is about to get under way and one way or another the coming months will be critical in determining the future of Scotland. 

This piece is an extract from today's REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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