ICE rounds off party conference season at the SNP conference at the SEC in Glasgow.
Since 2012 campaigns, referendums, and elections have set the tone for one of Scotland’s biggest annual political events. SNP conferences have in this time been characterised by high spirits, rousing speeches and an abundance of kilts.
However, this year with no such rallying points, the atmosphere was distinctly more sedate. “Workman-like” is how some have described it – although the leadership might characterise it as “getting on with the day job”.
Infrastructure policy for the future
The recently opened Queensferry Crossing was given its rightful place in all the major speeches, as was the importance of Scotland’s engineering workforce - current and future.
The oft-repeated list of recent and ongoing infrastructure projects got another airing. But for those looking for the next big announcement there was little to report. Relaunching and highlighting of existing infrastructure policy commitments was the name of the game.
This is perhaps not surprising given how recently the Programme for Government was launched and that the Draft Budget 2018/19 is as yet under development. Furthermore, ongoing reviews of energy, planning and transport strategies left little room for new commitment announcements.
Conference infrastructure policy highlights included:
- A Scottish Government energy company by 2020, trailed in the draft energy statement
- New rural tourism infrastructure fund of £6m
- Four city Low Emission Zones by 2020, previously outlined but now has a deadline
- ‘Use it of lose it’ message to local authorities on funding for affordable housing
- A Scottish Investment Bank (SIB) – previously outlined in the Programme for Government with infrastructure investment as a priority
- The A9 as an ‘electric corridor’ for road transport – in line with ambition for no new petrol/diesel cars by 2032
But the biggest announcement, although far from a surprise, came before the event itself in the form of a ‘ban’ on fracking in Scotland after a prolonged stakeholder consultation.
ICE Scotland Director Sara Thiam chaired the EDF energy fringe meeting with Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.
The panel enjoyed a lively debate, with representatives from the nuclear and renewables sectors setting out their positions and aspirations for the future.
Electrification of transport provoked particular debate with questions from the audience on the role of renewables and storage in realising mass roll-out. The scale of the challenge is clear.
The Minister reiterated the principals of the Draft Energy Strategy for a low carbon, whole systems approach to energy in Scotland and the importance of a stable system of incentives for renewables to realise change.
ICE Scotland supports this approach but emphasises the need for resilience and predictability in the system.
The current round of strategy reviews presents the opportunity to realise a whole-systems approach to energy in Scotland.
Furthermore, the advent of new technologies – especially mass electric and autonomous vehicles – means it’s important to get the digital and energy foundations of our future infrastructure systems right now.
A big part of this will be getting infrastructure investment right. This is the subject for ICE Scotland’s forthcoming State of the Nation policy report, to be published in June 2018.