Thursday, 16 April 2009

No nukes is good nukes

I see the BBC is at its biased best again with the following headlines:

Scots nuclear stance criticised

Governments fall out over nuclear

BBC reporting aside, there's a proper story behind this.

The SNP, who have been anti-nuclear since Alex Salmond was a boy, have continued that policy from opposition into government, with the result that - for the forseeable future while the SNP remain in government - there will be no new nuclear power stations built in Scotland.

Which is tremendous from an environmental point of view. The Scottish Government has focused on renewable energy, promoting wind and tidal energy in particular, harnessing the power of nature to power our nation.

But that is not the story that the media - nor the UK Government - is focusing on.

The BBC tells of "battlelines being drawn between the two governments" which is simply a distortion of the truth. Ed Milliband, UK Energy Secretary simply said:
"I disagree with the position the Scottish Executive has taken on this, I don't think it's good for Scotland."

"It's a huge number of jobs - it's 9,000 jobs per nuclear power station with huge benefits for the economy... but it does remain a decision for Scotland."

His quotes tell two things: One, that the UK Government is focused on economic issues (understandable given the mess they've made of it in recent months) at the expense of a long term environmental strategy. And two, he understands devolution. Something that can't be said for many of his colleagues at Westminster.

Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 sets out the areas of policy which are reserved to Westminster. Included in that is energy policy (including Section D4 nuclear energy and nuclear installations). However, that only covers current power plants. To build a new power station requires planning and electricity laws, both of which are devolved - giving the Scottish Government an effective veto over any plans to build nuclear power stations in Scotland.

Thus, under an SNP Government, Scotland can look forward to a nuclear-free future.


ASwaS 16 April 2009 at 19:55  

Now, now. Don't be hasty. The word "veto" is a bit strong. If only.

See Scotland Act Part I. sections 28(7) and 30(2-3).

The ultimate power - from a legal perspective - still lies with the sovereign legislature.

Malc 16 April 2009 at 20:14  

I said "effective veto" ASwaS. I was very careful about that.

The UK govt still has a(n effective) veto over any legislation that the Scottish Parliament passes as well.

ASwaS 16 April 2009 at 20:18  

I still think you're overstating it. If Westminster decides Scotland is getting nuclear plants the only appeal the Scottish Government has is the court of public opinion.

Malc 16 April 2009 at 21:13  

That's kinda the point tho.

The court of public opinion in Scotland backs the Scottish Government on this issue. And I'm not convinced that the UK Government is ready to run roughshod over democracy (both in terms of public opinion and devolution of powers) for a couple of nuclear power stations.

Sam 16 April 2009 at 22:18  

I really cannot see how the BBC is biased in those stories.

You seem to want it to talk about the tremendous environmental benefits of SNP Government policy. Why should it do that? The BBC is supposed to be "independent from political and commercial influences". Both of those stories do that job by reporting what all sides said. Salmond & Mike Weir (& the Lib Dem who you failed to mention agreed with you!) both get a (large) response to the stories.

Personally I would prefer more analysis by the BBC but its pretty lazy to accuse them of bias all the time, when they're probably no more or less biased than any news outlet/person with an opinion.

Its also not that simple to say nuclear = bad. Plenty of environmentalists believe that nuclear - carbon-free remember - may be necessary to come quickly off fossil fuels. The risks of not trying it may be too great.

Malc 16 April 2009 at 23:25  


You miss the point completely with that.

I don't care if the BBC report the Scottish Government's policy on the environment (well, I do, but not at this point in time).

My point is simply that they are (as is their wont) constructing a tale of conflict between two governments when none really exists. Yes they disagree on a policy but both recognise the limits of their power in that particular policy area.

I don't remember them making such a song and dance when Labour in Scotland were pushing free personal care for the elderly or the UK government were forcing through top-up fees and foundation hospitals when in Scotland Labour did not pursue those policies.

The media are trying to make conflict a self-fulfilling prophecy by accentuating differences into large scale issues. Then they make claim that the SNP are picking fights with Westminster when in actual fact relations between the two governments are as cordial as they were when Labour were in government in Scotland as well.

Sam 16 April 2009 at 23:55  

The media are trying to make conflict a self-fulfilling prophecy by accentuating differences into large scale issuesI don't want to impale myself on this painfully-spiked fence too much but you're right and wrong.

Obviously journalists try to make their stories more exciting, & sub-editors their headlines more attention-grabbing. Lazy journalism is often as much about poor use of language as wilful distortion, though the latter clearly occurs.

But in that "Government fall out" story (the "fall out" clearly if irrelevantly also chosen for its nuclear explosion connotations) is there anything outside the headline & first five paragraphs which supports this "conflict" narrative?

Actually there isn't. And its probably no coincidence that (on my screen res at least) the first five paragraphs are the ones you don't have to scroll down to read. So as soon as you read what the politicians actually say you see that peace reigns with just a few expressions of natural political disagreement.

The majority of that story therefore contradicts the headline! Admittedly poor editing, but hardly the deliberate conspiracy you seem to imply. I don't think its fair to suggest that when everyone who writes anything knows that you need to pack the punch at the beginning.

Anonymous,  17 April 2009 at 09:50  


You claimed that “the court of public opinion in Scotland backs the Scottish Government on this issue”.

But that simply isn't true.

A YouGov survey last year found that 67% of people in Scotland believe that nuclear power should be part of the overall energy mix.

And even the SNP administration's own survey, again conducted in 2008, found that 53% of people in Scotland agree with the statement that “we need nuclear power along with other forms of energy”. Only 23% disagreed.

Malc 17 April 2009 at 10:18  


Funny then that more representatives from anti-nuclear parties (SNP, LD, Green) were elected than those from pro-nuclear (Lab, Con).

Unless, of course, people don't actually vote on single issues.

Anonymous,  17 April 2009 at 10:27  

What can I say? On this issue, some parties (SNP, LD, Green) are clearly out of step with what you called the “court of public opinion”.

Stephen Glenn 17 April 2009 at 15:37  

Was that a UK of Scottish poll SU?

Last Scottish Poll I can find was 2006.

BBC Scotland opinion poll:

Asked if they would support or oppose building nuclear power stations in Scotland, 51% were against (35% strongly), compared with 33% in favour (14% strongly).

Renewables were the preferred power source at 52%, compared with 21% for gas-fired power stations, 16% for nuclear, and 6% for coal-fired stations.

69% of respondents "strongly" opposed to storing or disposing of nuclear waste in Scotland, and a further 11% who would "tend to oppose" it.

Stephen Glenn 17 April 2009 at 15:39  

I think Scottish people in the one UK-wide poll I read about were more against it because such power stations are built in the remoter parts of the country therefore a UK wide poll includes the major conurbations where these things are not build next too.

The one exception is likely to be the Lake District as my cousin, who lives there, is wont to keep reminding me.

Anonymous,  17 April 2009 at 16:15  

Hi Stephen

The 2008 SG poll was of course Scotland only. The YouGov was UK-wide, but with a hefty enough Scottish sample.

Your 2006 poll is interesting...

Q1 asked "Which one of the following sources of energy would be your most preferred method of meeting future energy demands in Scotland?"

Obviously (and rightly, in my opinion) renewables won easily. You've given the breakdown.

That led to Q2, which asked "Would you support or oppose nuclear power stations being built in Scotland?"

Again, you've given the results, which run counter to the two later polls. I would suggest, however, that Q1 significantly conditioned the responses to Q2.

Then Q3 asked "Would you support or oppose building new nuclear power stations in Scotland if they helped to avoid us being dependent on energy imported from overseas?"

The result there was 54% support and 34% opposed, indicating that opinion on this issue is (or at least, was) rather softer than ideologues on either side of the debate might imagine.

Cheapo 18 April 2009 at 15:48  

Greenpeace claim that 200,000 people may have died from Chernobyl by 2004. There is no point for Scotland building nuclear plants we do not need them.
Hydro electricity is better. New Zealand gets 60% of its energy from hydro electricity. Why can we not do the same?
The nuclear industry is very devious and tries to claim only 56 people died as result of Chernobyl. They are corrupt to the core. All they care about is profits, and are prepared to lie even over Chernobyl. What the banks did should make us more cynical about the claims of large multi national companies.
Twenty years after the disaster, more than 2.4 million Ukrainians, including 428 000 children suffer from health problems related to the accident in Chernobyl, said the Ukrainian Ministry of Health.
So if we had an accident more than half of our nation could be damaged.

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