The SNP grew up on oil, is wedded to economic expansion and always wants to put Scotland first. As a political party, it has never developed a coherent theoretical approach to one of the defining issues of the age: the environment.
It comes as some surprise then, that after a year in power, the SNP has won warm plaudits from many environmentalists. There are still major reservations, of course, but most observers outside political parties seem to think that the SNP is doing a better job than its predecessors in government.
Perhaps the green issues on which the SNP has won most praise are nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Ministers made very clear their opposition to any new nuclear power stations north of the border, and quickly got their position accepted by Westminster.
The holding of a summit, then the establishment of a working party, aimed at finding ways of getting rid of the Trident nuclear weapons system on the Clyde were also popular moves. In pursuing its anti-nuclear policies, the SNP has the backing of a majority in the Scottish Parliament and, probably, a majority of the country.
The SNP’s enthusiastic support for renewable energy like wind, wave and tidal power is also regarded positively. That has not been marred by last week’s rejection of the wind farm proposed for the Isle of Lewis, which many environmentalists thought was too big and too damaging.
SNP ministers have made impressive noises about combating the rise in wildlife crime, and have promised a marine bill to provide co-ordinated protection to Scotland’s seas. Moves to make flood management more sustainable and to encourage fishermen to conserve cod stocks have also been welcomed.
On food policy, the SNP launched a discussion, without saying anything too specific about what it actually thinks. That is still to come, with inherent tensions between promoting local food and expanding Scottish markets to be resolved.
The SNP’s plan to tackle global warming by cutting climate pollution 80% by 2050 is ahead of most other countries, including the UK. There are concerns, though, that the party is backing away from its manifesto commitment to mandatory targets to reduce pollution by three per cent a year.
Ministers’ intentions will only become fully clear when they bring a climate change bill before parliament, where doubtless there will be difficult arguments to be had. The final form that the climate bill takes will, for many, be the environmental touchstone on which the SNP will be judged.
By far the biggest flaw in the SNP’s environmental thinking so far has been its transport policy. By abandoning tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges, pursuing plans for a new Forth road crossing and backing airport expansion, ministers have patently failed to join the climate change dots.
Unless the government radically changes its approach to transport and learns to stop loving cars and planes, it will find its targets to cut climate pollution slipping from its grasp - and with them will go the government’s environmental credibility.
WHAT THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS SAY
Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
For the first time the peace movement in Scotland is able to work in a positive way with a Scottish government which opposes the replacement of Trident. The key government initiative was the convening of a Trident summit - ‘Scotland without nuclear weapons’ - to bring together Scotland’s peace movement with the new government. A broadly based working group has now emerged from it.
"That body is now considering, within the powers of Scotland’s devolved settlement, the impact of Trident on jobs and the economy, the legality of nuclear weapons, environmental and safety issues around the transporting and basing of nuclear weapons in Scotland and the positive contribution Scotland could make towards international peace and justice. There has been a refreshing openness on the part of the new administration.
Director, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland
Committing to a new marine bill and sustainable flood management legislation are both very welcome, and overdue for Scotland. By rejecting the Lewis wind farm, they’ve shown that they’re prepared to be bold and uphold our international conservation obligations in the face of development pressures. We need renewables, but in the right place. We only hope that a similarly sensible approach applies to the Trump development at Balmedie.
However, we’d like to see more funds made available to help farmers who want to manage their land in an environmentally sensitive way to help key species recover – just now there’s no real incentive. It’s great that they seem to be taking wildlife crime seriously, and their proposals for better policing and investigation look promising, although of course that needs to be properly followed through.
Chief Executive, Friends of the Earth Scotland
On balance the SNP score well. Ruling out new nuclear power, while taking a responsible attitude to nuclear waste, was the right decision. They are clearing the backlog of windfarm applications with a balanced approach – drawing a line on designated habitats, but not letting the nimby tendency dictate policy. Higher waste recycling targets are also welcome, though it remains to be seen if tough rules to limit incineration will be properly enforced.
Their 80% target for cutting greenhouse gases is the minimum now needed and clearly better than Westminster – although trying to drop their manifesto promise for 3% a year annual cuts takes the gloss off their draft Climate Bill. Sadly their transport policy is driving a coach and horses through their climate promises. They are not the only political party promising road-building and airport expansion, but growing traffic means Scotland will fail to deliver its climate targets.
Dr Dan Barlow
Acting Director, WWF Scotland
Early in the new Parliament the SNP announced welcome plans for new legislation to cut climate emissions by 80% by 2050. Rightly opposing nuclear power, they have instead boosted green energy support.
Progress towards a Scottish Marine Bill is encouraging, as is an initiative to reward fishermen who help conserve cod stocks. Support for a sustainable approach to flood management is welcome, while on waste ministers should be congratulated for dismissing plans for huge incinerators.
Abolishing road tolls, backing a second Forth crossing and unsuccessfully attempting to derail the Edinburgh tram reveal that the SNP are yet to reconcile their transport and climate policy. And we wait to see whether they will abandon their manifesto pledge to cut Scotland’s emissions by 3% every year. Whilst promising ‘sustainable economic growth’ we await to see how the ‘sustainable’ component of this will play out in practice.
It’s hard to be kind about the SNP government’s record on the environment and climate change. There are some positives, such as ruling out new nuclear plants in Scotland while largely backing renewables. We have also persuaded them to adopt our climate challenge fund, which will fund inspirational community carbon reduction projects.
However, the SNP has no idea how to meet their limited 2050 target of an 80% cut in emissions. They have not moved on insulation, energy efficiency, or improving building standards. Worst of all, their transport policies are even more car-dependent than their predecessors, and will seriously aggravate our emissions.
In a parliament of minorities, though, it’s not all down to the SNP. It’s the responsibility of all parties, including the Greens, to turn around the government's outdated oil economics and grasp the opportunities a low carbon economy could bring to Scotland.