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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Retail and Town Centres, Urgent Question, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, LGBT+ History Month


Urgent Question

Offshore Wind Resources (Statistics)

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason the constitution secretary reportedly referred to the statistic that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind resources at a meeting with European delegates on 4 October and in newspaper columns of 17 and 18 October 2022, in light of an email indicating that officials had advised that the statistic was inaccurate on 28 September 2022.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

It is a matter of fact and, I hope, not of party-political disagreement that Scotland is exceptionally well endowed with renewable energy potential. As renewable technologies, licensing rounds and completed schemes develop at home and abroad, so does the statistical context. An example of that is last year’s ScotWind licensing round, which was the world’s largest-ever leasing round for floating offshore wind, with developer ambitions at over 17GW.

The statistic that Liam Kerr highlighted has been used by both the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government, but it is now considered to be overtaken by developments. That is why I am no longer using it.

The Scottish Government has committed to providing Parliament with updated statistics in due course. I am confident that that will confirm that Scotland is well placed to be a significant European leader in renewable energy production. I hope that Liam Kerr will join me in using those statistics to promote Scotland at home and abroad.

Liam Kerr

I thank the cabinet secretary for completely evading the question that I asked.

I have a freedom of information response that says that the cabinet secretary presented that statistic as a fact to foreign politicians on 4 October. As foreign politicians—and the people of Scotland, by his columns on 17 and 18 October—were potentially misled by the cabinet secretary, what action has he taken to ensure that foreign politicians know what the truth is, to ensure that he has tracked down and corrected anyone else to whom he has repeated the misleading statistic, and to establish which of his other colleagues have similarly repeated the misleading statistic so that they too can ensure that they were giving out accurate information?

Angus Robertson

The Scottish Government, the UK Government and I are no longer using the statistics that have been overtaken by developments. However, it is really important not to inadvertently create the impression that Scotland is not a nation with significant renewable resources. It has immense natural resources. When projects that are awaiting construction, are under construction or are already operational are added to the current reported potential pipeline, the total potential capacity reaches over 40GW, which is the equivalent of producing enough electricity annually to power every home in Scotland for 17 years or every home in the UK for over a year and a half.

Liam Kerr

There is appalling disrespect for the Parliament in the cabinet secretary’s refusal to answer or even address the question that I have put. There is, of course, a bigger picture around what that says about the Government.

On 15 November 2022, I asked Minister Lorna Slater:

“When did ministers first become aware that they were using a figure that, to quote Scottish Government officials, had not ‘been properly sourced’”?

She said:

“Ministers became aware of the issue on Tuesday 8 November”. —[Official Report, 15 November 2022; c 6.]

In an email dated 16 November 2022, the cabinet secretary wrote to his constituent that ministers became aware on 8 November that the 25 per cent statistic was not an accurate figure.

The cabinet secretary emailed me last week stating:

“Officials emailed advice to my private office against using the 25% statistic ... on the 28th September 2022”,

which suggests that the information that he gave to his constituents was not correct.

Page 41 of the ministerial code, under the heading “Honesty”, says:

“Holders of public office should be truthful.”

At section 1.3(c), it says:

“Ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister”.

Given that the circumstances that I have detailed suggest that there have been major breaches of that code, when will the cabinet secretary and Minister Lorna Slater be tendering their resignations in disgrace?

Angus Robertson

That was an interesting speech rather than a question, was it not? I will say again for the benefit of the member, who was just keen to read out what he had clearly written before he arrived in the chamber, that the statistic that the member highlighted has been used by the UK Government and the Scottish Government. It is now considered to have been overtaken by developments. [Interruption.]

Thank you, members!

Angus Robertson

That is why I am no longer using that statistic.

In an earlier answer, I also made it clear to him that the Scottish Government is committed to providing the Parliament with the updated statistics in due course—I am sorry that he does not seem to think that that is good enough. I hope that he will join me in using them to promote the renewables sector in Scotland.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary was advised by his officials in September not once but twice not to use the 25 per cent figure. Can he tell us why he ignored that advice when pushing the bogus stats to a French Government minister? Then he doubled down by citing the dodgy figures in newspaper columns and in speeches. Why did he do that? Why did he ignore the advice? Given the importance of the principle of truthfulness in the ministerial code, should he not refer himself for investigation under that code?

The massive potential of Scotland’s renewable energy is recognised internationally, especially among our northern European neighbours. [Interruption.]

Excuse me, cabinet secretary. I ask members to ensure that we are all able to hear members when they are speaking.

The member asked a question and then proceeded to barrack me. If he will allow me to— [Interruption.]

Continue, please.

I shall continue. Colin Smyth’s colleague in the Norwegian Labour party, Andreas Bjelland Eriksen, the State Secretary for—

What has this got to do with it?

Angus Robertson

I am sorry that Colin Smyth is not interested in this because his colleague in Norway most certainly was. I met him in Tromsø at the beginning of the month and he and his colleagues are extremely keen to co-operate with Scotland because they recognise that our countries have so much renewable energy potential.

I agree that we want statistics to be as up to date as possible, and I hope that Colin Smyth will join me in using them to promote the potential of renewables, the investment and the jobs that they will bring, and to make our contribution to combating the climate crisis.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Nobody but nobody in this chamber is disputing the fact that Scotland has tremendous offshore renewable energy generation potential. What we are disputing is the bogus statistics that artificially inflate that potential on the world stage. Twice now we have seen some fancy footwork from the cabinet secretary trying to say that the statistic has been overtaken by developments, but if the developments that he is talking about are the realisation that that figure was always mince, he is quite right. This was a mash-up of reports and academic research going back to 1991 that excluded the renewable powerhouse of Scandinavia. We have raised that point time and time again. I challenged the First Minister and Lorna Slater on that figure and they told me that it was outdated when, in fact, it was never true. They dodged my parliamentary questions asking them to correct the Official Report in the requisite time. That correction has never been requested.

Why are there no consequences for any of those ministers, including the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture? Does accuracy, transparency and accountability in Parliament and on the international stage matter so little to this Government?

Angus Robertson

I point out to the Liberal Democrats that the UK Government used that statistic. I think that I am right in saying that that Government included Liberal Democrats.

The member is absolutely right that we should aspire to the best statistics that we can have. That is what we are working towards. I hope that he and the representatives of other parties will do everything that they can to promote renewables around Europe and the rest of the world rather than trying to undermine Scotland’s reputation.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Does the cabinet secretary not understand that Scotland’s renewable wind potential does not need made-up or exaggerated statistics? By doing that, he and his Government undermine Scotland’s national resources reputation.

Angus Robertson

I have to assume that the member is not aware the statistic was used by a Conservative-led United Kingdom Government. That is a statement of fact. It is also a statement of fact that statistics need to be updated, and that is exactly what will happen. I hope that he and everybody else in the chamber will use that to promote Scotland at home and abroad.

That concludes the urgent question.