BEFORE starting to write this column, I checked on the internet to see how many customers of the energy industries had to spend a second weekend without power after their lights went out as that Arctic tempest, Storm Arwen, hit its hardest on November 26.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks had said they were making a big effort to restore power everywhere over this last weekend. Most of the customers still to be reconnected lived in Aberdeenshire, with smaller numbers in Perthshire, Angus and Moray. Mark Rough, the company’s director of operations, said: “Our teams continued to make really good progress throughout Friday night and they’re working really hard, in worsening weather conditions, to restore the last remaining customers throughout the course of today.”

Certainly the lads deserved all praise for faithfully carrying out what can seldom be a pleasant job, clambering up amid stinging snowfall to restore lines blown down in the howling winds. Still, at least they could finally get home to a snug bed – which had not been a luxury available to all the people rescued shivering under layers of clothing and trying to warm their hands over a spluttering flame. That was still the story for a few in a new week’s wan light.

It was not the best of times for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to broadcast to the nation how much faster we will be turning green as we head towards a net-zero Scotland by 2045, sooner than almost every other country round the globe. In a wayward climate like Scotland’s, variety in supply should surely, for security’s sake, be a higher priority.

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But Nicola must have been thinking more about all the persons of importance she met in this brave new world at COP26 in Glasgow. The Greens are now the only Scots of equivalent importance to her, as she takes her quasi-coalition pact with them more seriously than most of us had expected.

No doubt it is good for Scotland to have politicians who do take things seriously, and perhaps we can discern ahead of us a fascinating period for comparison with the performance of a neighbouring country, England, which does not. Curmudgeonly Scots may, however, also unfavourably compare the zeal behind Sturgeon’s pursuit of climate targets with that which she devotes to the cause for which they give her their votes, the independence of the country.

She keeps saying the health of the nation comes first and its freedom second. Here is a key statement of hers in 2020: “The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing. This broader approach is at the very heart of our economic strategy which gives equal importance to tackling inequality as economic competitiveness … It is why we are so committed to fair work and making sure that work is fulfilling and well paid and why we are acting to ensure a just transition to a carbon zero economy where no one is left behind.”

The quasi-coalition with the Greens and the working majority at Holyrood still do not make this prospect quite as certain as she thinks. A flagging economy has seldom been a friend of Scottish independence. Indeed, the Greens are opposed to economic growth, which now we need more of to get over Covid-19. They, by contrast, do not see it as justifying higher demands on the earth’s resources, because it might speed up climate change. They believe we can get all we need by way of what we’ve got.

Free of dogma in its foundations, the SNP moved left in the late 20th century, though stopping short of any formal commitment to socialism. There was anyway a respectable case that the UK fiscal system had an unfair bias because it was geared to benefits for England, especially when the Tories were in power with their reliance on votes in the Home Counties. On this bandwagon, at any rate, the SNP raised itself from the far fringes to be the dominating party in Scotland. Power was its priority, first political power and then industrial power through having and exploiting North Sea oil.

Suddenly, at the end of 2021, Scotland seems less interested in power, to exercise or to burn. Political correctness appears to have taken over, sucking up to environmentalism and holding back on the prerogatives of the nation. Devolution made sure Scotland’s interests could no longer be casually ignored. The cause of independence has still to place them permanently at the forefront of debate.

On the contrary, it has to be asked if the pattern of 40 years has come to an end in quasi-coalition with the Greens. Its first big announcement is to abandon the Cambo oil field. Even though this lacks support from many SNP politicians and voters, they may be happy with what Nicola calls a “just transition” from an oil-powered economy to a carbon-neutral one. But, as adults, they also see it is a process, not an event. The transition is just what it says it is – and likely to take a long time.

The Greens would prefer to see the North Sea abandoned at once. The 100,000 jobs to be lost would for them be mere collateral damage. These suffering Scots and their families might not like it, but it is the price that must be paid in order to meet the challenge of the climate crisis.

AWKWARDLY, destroying the North Sea oil industry itself will do nothing to clean up the planet. Till there are viable alternatives to oil and gas, our society still needs them. The UK is by no means self-sufficient in fossil fuels. In 2019 it imported half the gas and more than a quarter of the oil it used. It makes no difference to the planet whether oil burnt here comes from UK or Norwegian waters, but it does make a difference to families here and, indeed, to the Government.

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Politically it seems risky, therefore. The SNP’s discipline is tight. Ranks are never broken. Worries, where they exist, are kept private. Yet in and round Aberdeen, opposition to Cambo provoked a furious response from the ranks of the SNP. To activists it seems inexcusably risky in a political season when voters are ready to exhibit their grievances at the ballot box. The north-eastern seats in the two Parliaments are likely to remain marginal till clear political efforts are made either to enhance the North Sea’s viability or else to close down its industry as soon as possible.

This is not the first time the SNP has faced severe internal contradictions. Now, one of the results of inviting the Greens into government is that the tensions are more, not less, apparent. To put it crudely: Nicola is more comfortable with the Greens than she is with business, just as she is instinctively more in touch with the southside of Glasgow than with the north-east of Scotland. She is a leftist, while the SNP’s oil patrons and benefactors are anything but.

Nor does the First Minister often acknowledge that her policies make some people winners and others losers. So it is brave and bold of her to do so in the case of an industry that was once going to power a new and glorious era for an independent Scotland. Now it looks almost like an embarrassment.