Let’s make a low carbon Scotland a high priority

A guest post today from Dr Sam Gardner, Head of Policy at WWF Scotland: thanks Sam!

5037469308_0718473d8d_bThe UK Committee on Climate Change’s most recent progress report under the Scottish Climate Change Act offers a useful assessment of where we are on our journey towards a low carbon Scotland. It highlights good progress in power generation and an increase in insulation rates, while at the same time reminding us this goal remains a long way off.  Yes, as WWF has documented, there has been excellent progress on renewable electricity but many other sectors need the same level of commitment and focus if the full benefits of a low carbon future are to be realised – across the transport, housing, land-use and waste sectors.

As the report recommends a renewed focus across the Scottish economy is required if our position as a global climate leader is to stand up to scrutiny and the benefits of a low carbon future are to be secured for Scotland. The need for action grows more compelling all the time. This week, the World Meteorological Organisation in their State of the Climate Report, stated that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record occurred this century. In a few days the IPCC will spell out the ever more worrying impacts of a changing climate.

So what is there more to do? The energy efficiency of Scotland’s homes continues to demand attention with the CCC making clear that “substantial additional policy effort by the Scottish Government will be necessary if it is to achieve its insulation and fuel poverty targets”.  Scotland’s homes are exposed to unpredictable weather which means emissions can rise by 15% one year and fall by 21% the next.  If we are to protect our homes from cold snaps and rising gas prices then we need to increase the loft insulation in over 30% of our homes, install cavity wall insulation in 600 000 homes and tackle the many homes needing solid wall insulation, all before 2020.  A transformation of this scale creates jobs (approx. 10 000 according to research for WWF), saves households money and helps tackle the scourge of fuel poverty.  Key to accelerating this programme will be the introduction of regulations for minimum energy efficiency standards and acting on the CCC’s advice that an increase in funding by the Scottish Government is needed given the cuts to the UK ECO programme.

Its no great surprise that the transport sector is another area flagged by the CCC where ‘more needs to be done’.  Transport emissions are the same now as they were in 1990 and there is little prospect of that improving given Scottish Transport’s own predictions that emissions are set to increase.  The CCC repeats its call from previous reports to get behind demand management transport measures and develop and fund a continuation of the Smarter Choices Smarter Places programme that was trialled in seven towns and cities across Scotland between 09 and 2012.  If we want to enjoy the benefits of improved air quality, safer streets and lower emissions we can’t afford to wait until 2018 when the Scottish Government’s climate action plan says the nationwide rollout will commence.

The Scottish Government’s recently published draft heat generation policy has been given renewed importance by the UK CCC’s conclusion that ‘even if all the projects in the pipeline went ahead and were operational by 2020’ we would still miss our heat target.  WWF’s recent renewable heat report outlines steps to be taken to accelerate both district heating and support the uptake of individual property heating technologies like air source heat pumps.

Worryingly, the CCC poses two options for meeting the targets in future: either identify additional effort to meet them, or amend, – or essentially, lower, the targets. This is suggested because changes in the greenhouse gas emissions inventory – the baseline – now means that we effectively have a 47% target rather than a 42% target to meet by 2020.  There are a host of reasons for not amending the targets, not least the signal it would send to other nations aspiring to legislate on climate change.  Having rightly attracted the attention of the world for our Climate Act, it would send a very poor message if we were to choose to lower the targets instead of identifying additional effort.  With so many policy levers still to be exercised, amending targets would simply divert attention from the efforts to deliver better housing, better transport and cleaner energy. For all the progress that Scotland has made so far, now is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator on our low carbon journey. Let’s not start to undermine the hard fought long term stability that the Act provides.

For the love of a safer, cleaner, future for all, lets throw our weight behind delivering a low carbon future and ensure we fulfil the promise Scotland made when it passed the Climate Change Act five years ago.

This wooden IKEA is how you sell reduction

Being back in Sweden for the first time in a while, I’ve been able to watch Labour’s devolution proposals unfold from afar. What struck me most is that Labour still want the Scottish parliament to have less control over taxation than Swedish regional government does. Having tried to explain it to a journalist friend inquisitive about the referendum she was amazed that they would even attempt such a damp squib (from a Swedish perspective, some of the logical inconsistences of the Holyrood settlement are painfully obvious)

Within a few days of the independence referendum Sweden will go to the polls for its municipal and general elections, with expected gains for the Green and Left parties and perhaps even the first seats in parliament for the Feminist Intitiative party. The strategy of the Social Democrats in Sweden at the moment is to do absolutely nothing and ride the wave of disenchantment with the Cameronite Alliance for Sweden with whom they actually share a great many polices.

The Swedish Social Democrats, once one of the most respected and successful progressive movements in global politics, has become an intellectual void in the same way as the British Labour Party. Unable or unwilling to act decisively, time after time it produces reforms and reports they fail to either honour its past or develop any coherent vision for its future. Anas Sarwar’s doxological addiction to ‘fairness’ would be well at home in contemporary Swedish social democracy, just as it would be in that erstwhile heavyweight the German SPD. Drifts to the right are one thing, but drifts into directionless tokenism and policy by policy compromise and point scoring are almost worse.

The upshot of this could be that come October of this year Sweden will have a progressive government of Greens, Socialists, Feminists and Social Democrats in which the biggest party lacks any purpose whatsoever. It is strangely reminiscent of what one Labour insider said before the last Holyrood election when a Green-Labour coalition briefly appeared to be a possibility: “It’d be great. You’ve got the ideas and we’d get to be back in power.’

Splitting yourself between two similar but also very different political systems is a fantastic way of exploring political alternatives. The question for both Sweden and Scotland come September will be whether their social-democratic heritage can help to positively influence the future or whether they end up rudderless and unambitious in a tokenistic race to tick the right boxes without knowing why.

Fringe benefits of independence

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 11.04.23The worst reason for voting No to independence is because you don’t like Alex Salmond, and the worst reason for voting Yes is because you don’t like David Cameron. This is a long-term decision about the future governance of Scotland, not a referendum on some here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians on either side of the campaign. However, as the Telegraph reports today (emphasis mine):

The Prime Minister is mindful too of the political peril that comes with defeat. Losing the referendum would be a terminal event for the Conservative and Unionist Party and, as Westminster now acknowledges, would require his immediate resignation. Unsurprisingly, if somewhat depressingly, some Tory MPs have begun factoring in the loss of Scotland as a way of achieving the regime change they yearn for at the top.

Let’s not leave that anti-Cameron glee to the headbangers and Europhobes. Let’s instead accept that the stakes are a little higher even than we thought. Imagine if we could achieve democratic self-governance and simultaneously leave our English/Welsh/Northern Irish friends with a legacy to be thankful for, i.e. ending the political career of the most right-wing Prime Minister in living memory.

This should be a wakeup call to the rUK left. You may not instinctively support independence, perhaps because you’ve got an unduly rosy view of the dinosaurs and timeservers (of all parties) we tend to send to Westminster, or perhaps because you don’t see how it will benefit you. But a Cameron resignation, followed by a vitriolic battle for the future of the Tory party just eight short months before a UK General Election? It’s surely time to book the buses to Scotland from Brighton and Manchester and the Rhondda. Help us to help you.

Seeing an end to Cameron’s misrule shouldn’t swing any votes in Scotland – after all, if he stayed on after a Yes vote he wouldn’t be our problem anyway. But a Yes vote certainly brings some pretty enticing fringe benefits for the left both north and south of the border.

Who do you not hate?

In addition to the independence question and the Holyrood voting intention put as part of our first monthly Survation poll (with the Daily Record and Dundee University’s 5 Million Questions), I also get to ask another question, and I can be more partisan than they are. So I asked the following:

Irrespective of how you personally vote, which of the following parties would you like to see as part of a future Scottish government (for example, as part of a coalition)?

The results were pretty striking (I’ve changed my mind since last week, incidentally, and will show the arbitary precision in these numbers: bear in mind that just one more person picking a particular party has a one in ten chance of increasing their result by 0.1%). The figure in brackets here shows how far above each party’s list vote in the same poll their result  is.

SNP: 48.8% (+8.9%)
Labour: 46.9% (+18.8%)
Green: 22.5% (+14.1%)
Lib Dem: 19.7% (+13%)
Conservative: 18.1% (+7%)
UKIP: 8.9% (+4.3%)
SSP: 1.6% (+0.8%)

I read this question primarily as “which other parties do you not hate?”, and so if I were Labour I’d find a crumb of comfort in these figures – although the actual Labour list vote we found is pretty low, there’s a substantial section of the public who don’t currently vote for them who are not against them being back in office. The SNP, on the other hand, (with much stronger actual voting intention figures) look like they are closer to the top of their maximum achievable vote. But hey, actual votes certainly trump a reservoir of broader non-voting sympathy. And overall, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see almost half the country want to see each of those two parties having a role in office.

But the picture is a bit more complicated than it looks. The detailed tables show that about a quarter of Labour voters think the SNP should be part of a future Scottish government, and vice versa, which may be a recognition by a good chunk of the public of the broad similarity of the two parties’ positions on much of the policy agenda. Conversely, roughly 10% of both parties’ own voters do not want to see their chosen party in office, which seems a touch odd. That number is even higher for the Lib Dems, with more than 15% of remaining Lib Dem voters not wanting the party to have a role in government.

At the bottom of the list, the SSP do figure, but only one person in 125 would vote for them, and only another one in 125 thinks they should be in office. The damage Sheridan did to the party shows no sign of going away, which I personally regret. I’d like to see Holyrood return to rainbow days again, with a good group of SSP MSPs as well as more Greens. But that looks a long way off. Above them, UKIP are in the area where they might pick up a regional seat or two if their vote were to be well-focused enough, but a pleasingly small proportion of the Scottish public don’t hate them.

The middle order is also interesting. On the actual regional voting intention, the three smaller Parliamentary parties were bunched pretty closely – the Tories on 11, Greens on 8, and the Lib Dems on 7. Of those three, the Tories remain the least well-liked beyond their actual voters, the Lib Dems retain a perhaps surprising reach, and the Greens come in third overall, greatly helped by the 30.7% of SNP voters who would like to see us in office (18.5% of Labour voters also felt that way).

It’s tempting as a Green to get excited about these figures, but there’s a sting in the tail for the party, just as there is with the excellent list vote found for the party in the same poll. There may be a substantial pool of potential Green voters out there (enough for the party plausibly to aspire to become the third party at Holyrood, no less), but without bringing in more money, more members, and more activists, we will never be able to convert these figures into a reliable base for the party. That next phase is already happening pretty widely in Edinburgh, and in parts of Glasgow, but beyond that, the critical mass for the Greens exists only in the wards of key hard-working activists (shout out to Martin Ford, Mark Ruskell & Ian Baxter in particular here). As William Gibson said in another context: the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

I’m too much of an inactivist right now to criticise, but the party’s problems remain broadly the same as they were even ten years ago. Patrick and others are working hard to try and help see the referendum won while simultaneously promoting the party’s distinctive positions, but the question remains: how can an increased level of interest and warmth be converted into those three vital assets?

New polling, specifically our new polling

Three major Scottish institutions today join forces (well, two major Scottish institutions plus Better Nation) to start a regular monthly series of polls, running at least up to the independence referendum. The other two are the Daily Record, who today report on the independence numbers (Yes: 39, No: 48, or Yes: 45, No 55 if the don’t knows are excluded), and 5 Million Questions, based at Dundee University, who are providing the analysis for them.

The data comes from Survation, a BPC member company, and is (of course) based on a ~1,000 representative sample of Scottish voters. Everyone involved has the option for other questions (I’ve got one more I’ll be writing up later this week), and we’ll be offering a crowdfunding option shortly if you have burning questions in mind. Organisations wishing to take out questions should contact Survation – the omnibus format means there’s room for many more to be asked.

Each month we’ll be doing a Holyrood voting intention as well. So, without further ado, here are those numbers. Changes are to the 2011 result (with those results rounded to avoid false precision), and seat numbers are derived from Weber Shandwick’s Scotland Votes site – that will be the case until we have the capacity to do a seat predictor ourselves.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 45 (±0) 44 (-9) 40 (-4) 15 (-1) 59 (-10) 45.7
Labour 34 (+2) 24 (+9) 28 (+2) 17 (-5) 41 (+4) 31.8
Conservative 13 (-1) 3 (±0) 11 (-1) 8 (-4) 11 (-4) 8.5
Liberal Democrats 5 (-3) 2 (±0) 7 (+2) 5 (+2) 7 (+2) 5.4
Scottish Greens - - 8 (+4) 10 (+8) 10 (+8) 7.8
Others 3 (+2) 0 6 (-3) 1 (±0) 1 (±0) 0.8

I’ll be honest, I’m surprised that such a small change in the first vote figures should lead to nine constituency losses for the SNP. Having sought to avoid false precision, though, the rounding does marginally bring down the level of change here (i.e. Labour would be up 2.3%, not 2% etc). But one of these seats has flipped already (Dunfermline), and there were a lot of other pretty narrow constituency wins for the SNP which this projection would see flip: Edinburgh Southern, Edinburgh Central, Clydebank and MilngaviePaisley, Kirkcaldy, Aberdeen CentralGlasgow Shettleston, and the closest 2011 result, Glasgow Anniesland. I’m not really sure about Weber Shandwick’s calculations for some of those, notably Clydebank and Milngavie and also Aberdeen Central, but so be it.

The two other surprising results would be the Lib Dems being up a little but still being beaten by the Greens on the second vote. Again, much as I’d like to see a Parliament full of Greens, I suspect the party’s ground campaign remains too weak to support quite this level of triumph: probably three in Lothian, two each in Glasgow and Highlands, plus one each in North East Scotland and Mid Scotland & Fife, and one in either South or West. Quite the haul.

And in terms of who would form the next Scottish Government, an SNP-led administration would seem inevitable on those numbers, either a numerically stronger minority than the 2007-2011 period or a coalition with their pick of any one of the three smaller parties.

Clearly all of this is over the event horizon of the independence referendum, so it’s just a bit of fun. But for the SNP to be looking strong for a third term despite the coordinated fire they’re taking in the referendum debate is still quite extraordinary: it’s not hyperbole to say that they do look to have forged themselves into the default party of government at Holyrood. More next month!