Just when the SNP's tails are up and they are looking forward to dictating terms in May, along comes one of those unwelcome intrusions of cold, dull, solid reality. The very large Longannet power station in Fife now looks set to close next year, quite a bit sooner than many anticipated and certainly much too soon for any like-for-like replacement to be built in Scotland.
A brief account of what this means in electricity supply terms. Longannet is the biggest power plant in Scotland and it is coal-fired, meaning it can produce electricity reliably on cold, still days. This of course is in stark contrast to the wind-power which in terms purely of theoretical capacity is what is replacing it north of the border. There won't be much reliable power left there soon, with Peterhead's capacity (gas) much reduced and the nuclear units at Hunterston and Torness also set to close. Despite what many imagine, there really isn't as much hydro power in Scotland as its hills and rainfall might suggest.
The SNP's vision is a Scotland producing "100% of its electricity needs" and indeed exporting surplus to England and Wales. They like the gullible to imagine this means self-sufficiency for Scotland, and Salmond even claims Scotland's wind power "keeps the lights on on England": but it's at best a numerical sleight of hand, at worst a downright lie. There are times when there is indeed a surplus when the wind is cooperating, but the coal / gas / nukes have to work hard when it isn't, and indeed there will always be times when imports are required from England. If (in the green fantasy world) Scotland went fully "renewable" (= mostly wind), there would of course be times when massive amounts of imports would be required.
This is rather like the German situation writ small; and of course it makes Scotland utterly dependent on being a fully integrated part of a much bigger and much more reliable grid. Economically, it has an uncomfortable further implication: exports will be when the wind is blowing nicely, and will be at rock-bottom prices. (Germany sometimes exports at negative prices, i.e. is forced to dump "must-take" wind and solar power on its neighbours.) Imports will be when the grid is struggling and will be at top-dollar, or whatever currency Salmond imagines he'll be using.
Now although there are greens and dumb-Nats who have unthinkingly swallowed the "100%" line (lots of 'em, as a cursory reading of Scottish websites and CiF will confirm) there will be fewer of those this morning as the realities of Longannet and post-Longannet are paraded across the media.
Needless to say, the SNP have found a way to blame the wicked English for the problem - "Grid charges are set deliberately to disadvantge Scotland" which, I need hardly add, is bollocks - and Longannet's owners, the Spanish (sic) have fed them this line. Well of course: all power generators are down at the regulator's office with their greedy hands out these days.
The Nats will be sorely disappointing the greens in the coming days because they'll be arguing for (a) a Longannet bail-out, just as the greens are celebrating its demise, and (b) a structural bail-out for Scottish power plants in general, to encourage someone to build a big new gas-fired plant to replace the coal-munching monster. Amusingly, the only real prospect for this is if the fiercely-opposed plans of INEOS and others for Scottish 'unconventional' gas production (i.e. fracking and coalbed methane) come to fruition. That ain't gonna be any time soon.
We have C@W readers who can judge the mood of Scottish voters better than I. But I can't help thinking a blunt reinforcement like this of the dependency of Scotland on being part of an integrated UK set-up is a modest dousing of cold highland water.