On 18 September the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum on the question "should Scotland become an independent country?". At the moment indications are that the vote will be very close and although some polls show Yes marginally in the lead, others show No marginally in the lead. This is not a general election to choose which political party will lead our Government for the next five years, this is a vote to determine our political future. If there is a Yes vote, Scotland becomes an independent country forever (at least effectively so, anything could happen a hundred or so years into the future).
So what are the possible implications for Scotland's environment? There's a reasonably good article here, from Chris Smout, though it misses out a few things (including Natura, the European nature conservation network).
Some conservation organisations are setting out their questions that they want answers to, whichever way the referendum goes, here are 5 questions from the Mountaineering Council. Friends of the Earth have written on this issue too and recently held an event on Reinventing the Economy and have produced a report on how a smaller, greener banking system could be of benefit to Scotland, whether as part of the UK or as an independent country.
The Scottish Green Party is campaigning for independence and you can read their thoughts on how independence would be good for the environment here. (Unfortunately the Scottish Green Party are very definitely still a minority party and it may be debateable how much they would be able to influence what would happen in an independent Scotland).
Of course we can't see into the future,. so it is useful to see how the current devolved Scottish Government performs on environmental issues, because in an independent Scotland, at least to start with, the new government will effectively be a continuation of the current devolved government:
The Scottish Government has put into place ambitious and impressive targets for reducing carbon emissions. However, targets are meaningless unless they're met and this June, as reported in the Herald newspaper, Scotland failed to meet its climate targets for the third year in a row.
The Scottish Government has set itself a target of 80% of electricity to be provided by renewable energy sources by 2020. However meeting that target has been described as challenging by the Scotsman newspaper, largely due to the global economic situation. These renewables targets also may seem to sit somewhat awkwardly alongside the development of strategies to maximise the revenues that Scotland can extract from its oil resources.
The Scottish Government wants, if there is a Yes vote, to remove Trident, the nuclear deterrent, from Scottish soils. This would possibly force the rest of the UK to rethink whether it wants to keep Trident (a victory from an environmental point of view) or it just ends up putting it somewhere else in the UK, which would not really be a victory for the environment in the largest sense.
But can we trust the protection of our natural landscapes and wildlife areas to the Government that overturned local opposition to Donald Trump's plans for a golf course that trashed a rare and valuable dune system that was a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)? (To find out more about this, please watch You've Been Trumped and the follow up A Dangerous Game. It is interesting that while even Donald Trump agreed to be interviewed for the second film, Alex Salmond the Scottish First Minister and the face of the pro-Independence movement refused to speak to film makers).
So how about the UK Government at Westminster? Certainly they have entirely failed in their commitment to be the greenest government ever.
However if we stay part of the UK, we have the ability to effect change for the whole of the UK. It seems almost impossible at times, but we can write to our MPs, we can join campaigning organisations, we have a voice. Many environmental problems are bigger than individual countries (though destruction of wildlife areas often happens on a local level, requiring local solutions that are affected by national guidelines and policies). If Scotland leaves the UK, theoretically we can build a better system
for ourselves but would be unable to influence what happens
in the rest of the UK. And surely if you care about wildlife and the wider environment in Scotland you care about wildlife and the wider environment in the rest of the UK?
Also there is the cost of nation building to be considered. Resources, money and planning will all be concentrated on building a new nation should Scotland decide to become independent and that would divert those resources from urgent environmental issues. Can we actually afford to both build a new nation and protect the environment in a truly meaningful way, in a world that is globally beset by financial and environmental problems?
Of course there are lots of other issues to consider when casting your vote on 18 September, but if I covered everything then I'd be blogging non-stop until it would be time for me to cast my vote. It looks like turnout for the referendum will be over 80%, we need as many people as possible to vote so that the result is truly democratic.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that tale you to other webpages where you can find out more.