The saying that a week is a long time in politics is depressingly apt for the period we are living in right now.
It has taken the Tories little more than that to tank the UK economy with its ill-judged mini-budget. The embarrassing U-turn on this increasingly right-leaning government’s plan to give massive tax cuts to the richest in society exposed the weakness of the new PM and her cabinet at a time when stability is key.
The harm that this hapless regime has done will only unfold in the winter months and and beyond, but it has already shown us that independence is more desperately needed now than ever before.
On the eve of the latest energy price hike, I highlighted one of the existing harms that policies reserved to the Tories at Westminster do to folk across the Highlands and Islands, not least Orkney.
With electricity customers across the region suffering the inequity of paying higher standing charges than anywhere else in the UK, I wanted to know whether the Scottish Government had discussed this with UK energy regulator Ofgem.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, rightly point out that the structure of customers’ energy bills, including standing charge levels, is reserved to the UK Government. Although that means that the Scottish Government has no option to intervene directly, he assured me that efforts continued to provide consumers with as much support and advice as it can, and it is also raising specific issues of concern with the UK Government and Ofgem.
It is clear to me from this situation, and from so many other penalties that the Highlands and Islands face for being a net exporter of clean green energy, that the UK Government will never work for the Highlands and Islands, and that it will instead leave them to suffer extreme fuel poverty.
Of course, where the Scottish Government has scope to take action, they are doing so. The Scottish Government has committed to continuing to spend more on energy efficiency per head of population in remote and rural areas because of the significantly higher levels of fuel poverty there and the additional costs that are associated with the work that is necessary.
And with the shambles the UK Government is making of energy policy, Michael Matheson agreed that an independent Scotland would be able to manage energy policy in a much more effective way that reflects the needs of folk across the Highlands and Islands.
Elsewhere, I am looking forward this week to debating the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill, which is due to go through its three stages from Tuesday to Thursday.
The rent freeze was one of the policies that I was most delighted to see in the Programme for Government. I am extremely relieved that it will be introduced ahead of the new Housing Bill. That is the right thing to do. It prioritises people’s safety and security over private financial gain, and it will save lives.
This is a regular column by SNP Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their views.
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