12 August 2020

S5M-22396 Economic Recovery Implementation Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22396, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on an implementation plan for economic recovery.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will address a couple of points made by Tory members before I come to the meat of what I want to say. Scotland is the part of the UK that has seen by far the biggest uplift in delivery of superfast broadband. The UK Government’s universal service obligation provides a third of the speed that the Scottish Government is working towards.

If I may say so, Dean Lockhart showed exceptional bravery in his contribution to the debate. He suggested that we had lost £500 million. We will have that debate another time. However, I have just checked and, so far, the high speed 2 project, which is controlled by the UK Government, is £30 billion over budget. Per capita, that would be £2.5 billion from Scotland, which is five times more than £500 million.

I turn to the substance of the issue that is before us today. I think that we can all agree that the pandemic has brought to many members of our population very real fear about the situation in which they find themselves, through no fault of their own and through no fault of any Government. It is important that we give them hope for the future, and the work that the Scottish Government has been doing is precisely what we can look to for that hope. The big projects of the past 50 or 60 years have been based on hope and set out by the ambition of leaders. That is what we see before us today. John F Kennedy taking his nation to the moon is an example.

However, many of the things that we can use today are not particularly new. I started using teleconferencing during a joint project with Australia nearly 30 years ago. Willie Coffey talked about the importance of software. Software is vital, but it is not as transient as we often think it is. I know for a fact that a piece of software that I used 45 years ago is in use today and is maintained by my successors.

I very much welcome the fact that in her opening remarks, the cabinet secretary referred to hydrogen. In the north-east of Scotland in particular, with the hydrogen buses in Aberdeen, we have already taken some early steps to show the viability of hydrogen as a fuel for heavy transport of one sort or another—heavy goods vehicles, buses and so on. The bus service operators grant does not focus specifically on supporting the use of hydrogen to power buses, and I think that we might care to revisit that.

In the north-east, we have huge amounts of renewable energy. A lot of it comes from onshore wind turbines, and there is space for some more. There are offshore wind turbines; the Hywind project is one example. Of course, there is also the Moray East project. The cables for that project run across my constituency and into my colleague Gillian Martin’s constituency, and they carry the raw material for producing the hydrogen that we can use.

I make a wee comment about the renewable transport fuel obligation. Hydrogen vehicles cannot access that subsidy, so we might also want to look at that.

Is there an economic opportunity that comes from hydrogen? Yes, there is, because it is in an early stage of development. We have the opportunity and the engineering skills in the north-east from working offshore and producing fuel from the North Sea—initially, it was through oil and gas, and now it is through wind turbines. That is part of what is needed. In my constituency, we have the Acorn project at St Fergus, which takes gas from the North Sea and uses the energy in a zero carbon footprint way to produce hydrogen, which can then be fed into the gas grid. Twenty per cent of what we put in the gas grid can be hydrogen, with the existing equipment that is using that hydrogen at the other end.

There is more that we can do, and I hope that we do it. I hope that we take the opportunity to use some of the significant amount of money that is being spent on retraining people to train more people in the skills that we need in exploiting hydrogen. Just as we have had success in the past from oil and gas, we can build our future on hydrogen. It presents a huge opportunity for Scotland and, in particular, for the area that I represent.


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