Emma Roddick MSP: “The UK’s broken energy system requires an urgent overhaul.”

I am in no doubt as to the level of importance placed by Orkney folk on the installation of an additional electricity interconnector across the Pentland Firth.

As we reflect on two weeks that saw Glasgow host the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties – COP26 – during which Orkney’s cutting edge low carbon developments were highlighted, it is not difficult to see why islanders are frustrated.

The nature of the UK’s privatised electricity system places many hurdles along the path to a new cable. Meanwhile, market failure that has triggered rocketing electricity prices in recent months increase the threat of deeper fuel poverty in these energy-rich islands.

The UK’s broken energy system requires an urgent overhaul.

An interconnector would allow renewable energy generated in the islands to flow to mainland Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, protecting local high-value jobs and contributing to Scotland’s transition to carbon neutrality.

While most of the powers to do anything about this lie with the Tories at Westminster, I used last week’s statement on Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework to see if the Scottish Government can help.

In light of the focus on sustainability and tackling climate change in the draft document, I asked the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, Tom Arthur if he could say whether due consideration was being given to supporting suitable renewable energy developments that would ensure the case for an Orkney interconnector.

While unable to comment on live planning applications, Mr Arthur said that the spatial strategy recognised the ‘exceptional opportunities’ for Scotland’s islands and coasts in transitioning to net zero. An important part of that will be supporting development that contributes to the blue economy and energy innovation and investment.

He pointed out that the framework proposes an updated national development, which would establish the need for strategic renewable energy generation and grid connections throughout Scotland. I am delighted that the Scottish Government recognises the opportunities of our islands in the journey to net zero.

Elsewhere, I was pleased to be able to contribute my own experiences to the debate on accessing social security benefits in Scotland.

The stigma attached to seeking help is something that we must all challenge. I can only hope that, by speaking out, I can help normalise the process. My experiences are an important part of who I am and are also invaluable to me in my work as an MSP.

My first PIP assessment was an extremely challenging process to go through and so I am hopeful that Social Security Scotland will stay true to the principles on which it was founded. How we treat people looking for help is such an important part of building a system that ensures the dignity of those it supports. Getting the help you need should not be such a traumatic experience.

I am steadfast in my belief that decent social security is not something to avoid, judge or disparage. It is the sign of a fair and caring society.

This is a regular column by Highlands and Islands Regional SNP MSP Emma Roddick. All H&I Regional MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.

Related story: Orkney Interconnector: Raising the Case in Parliament

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