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Ramsay Jones: Food and fuel can drive our great country forward to a much better future

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It is in the nature of most of us to extol the virtues of where we live as the very best there is. To assert that our corner of this planet is unsurpassed. That our people are the finest, our landscape the most stunning, our spirit the most indomitable.

The “Whas like us” mentality at which we, as Scots, excel. When it comes to blowing our own trumpets, we are world beaters.

So let’s face facts. When it comes to Scotland, it is true.

We are a wonderful, cosmopolitan, mongrel collection of folk bound together by our love of our land.

We have the best of neighbours with whom we share our history, our language and our future and with whom we make our mark in the world.

We have a country of outstanding natural beauty and a population which has given the world some of its greatest writers, inventors, entrepreneurs, thinkers and academics. And a good few of the globe’s best sports stars and entertainers.

We don’t weigh much. But we punch miles above it.

Ours is a land flowing, if not with milk and honey, then at least with whisky and oil.

I make these reflections because of two events last week. They both gave me pause to reflect on where we are as a nation and where we are heading. On how we must make the most of the riches we have and the opportunities which lie ahead.

Not, I should make clear, in a constitutional way. I am of the opinion that those decisions have been taken. For better or worse, we are where we are.

No, my muse is about harvesting the bounty which nature has provided. How we, in this little corner of the world, can feed and fuel not just ourselves, but many others too. That the power of Scotland is our food and our fuel.

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I spent a couple of days at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston. It is the showcase of rural Scotland. An event busting with people, ideas, energy and enthusiasm. Where you could spend several million pounds on farm machinery or a few hours lapping up the sun and the free samples of some of our finest food and drink.

Whilst there I saw first hand the innovation of people at the Hutton Institute where their scientists and collaborators are at the cutting edge of soil and plant techniques and technology. A body bursting with ideas which could help Scotland be at the cutting edge of helping to feed the world.

Now I am lucky as I count them as clients so I have seen up close the cutting edge science that they are developing. But they, and others like them, are world renowned and world beaters. The work that they do and the natural environment of Scotland are perfect partners.

And I met and spoke with many others who share a passion and a vision for Scottish food and drink. Who know that we must make the most of what we have. And I sense that we are on the cusp of something special. A moment when science, agriculture, fisheries, and our food and drink industries can come together to chart another great chapter. To produce a vision of our rural economy for the next century and a road map to get there. A collaboration of shared interests, building a science led, sustainable future on land and at sea.

It is an exciting prospect and great food for thought.

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Talking about the power of Scotland, last week was Onshore Wind Week. Which was the second event which made me muse. As a country, we are truly blessed when it comes to energy.

Now I accept that each source has its supporters and its detractors.

Some see oil and gas as a carbon disaster rather than a natural bounty.

Others will always reject nuclear power regardless of its green credentials.

Biomass has its fans and skeptics.

But we also have vast renewables resources. The sun does shine here. A bit. But the wind most certainly does blow. Onshore and offshore. And better technology is driving down the cost of production. But even here there are some who say onshore wind is a blot in the landscape.

In truth, we need a mix. We must secure a base load of a certainty of supply. But we cannot ignore the natural assets we have. And wind is one of them. So should we have more? And if so, under what constraints?

The economic case is getting compelling.

A new report, The Power of Onshore Wind from renewable energy consultants BVG Associates (BVGA) has demonstrated that awarding contracts for five gigawatts (GW) of new onshore wind power between 2019 and 2025 could deliver a net payback to UK consumers of £1.6 billion.

Forecasts show that the costs of new onshore wind projects will drop beneath the Government’s forecast wholesale electricity price from 2023, delivering a net benefit for UK electricity consumers. That could mean lower costs for you and me. And a big step towards meeting our climate goals.

Over the five auctions it is expected that 86% of the projects by capacity will be built in Scotland. It would mean more employment with an estimated 18,000 skilled jobs supported during the peak years of construction, and 8,500 people securing long-term skilled jobs when all the wind farms are operating. The majority of these new posts would be right here.

Onshore wind is the cheapest form of new build electricity generation available in the UK today.

And public opinion is shifting. it is supported by over three-quarters of the British public.

Now I accept that some will argue that their bit of Scotland has more than done its bit. That there are enough turbines turning on the hillsides where they live.

But we cannot ignore the opportunities to produce clean, green, subsidy free electricity. To create thousands of jobs. To cut bills for business and families.

For me, there should be more onshore wind helping to power our economy and our country. But we need to ensure that two conditions are met: clear community support and community benefit.

After all, if we are the best country in the world, why wouldn’t we want to lead the way? So lets do what we have always done best: Through innovation and boldness make the most of what nature has provided.

So let’s continue to blow our own trumpets and some more turbines too.

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