Scotland’s heat pump obsession will immiserise the nation

Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie
Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie

The Scottish Parliament has no authority on matters of immigration. That doesn’t mean it can’t encourage emigration, accidentally or otherwise. And if its latest net zero initiatives go through, we can expect an outflow of older, more wealthy Scots to the sanctuary of England.

The latest wheeze is to effectively deny the households a real choice over whether they replace their gas boilers with expensive heat pumps by threatening financial sanctions. A taskforce chaired by zero carbon buildings minister Patrick Harvie, who is also co-leader of the Scottish Greens, has expressed some impatience with Scots choosing gas boilers because they’re cheap and tend to heat homes quickly.

This is not very helpful to the Scottish Government’s self-imposed target of net zero carbon emissions by 2045 – a date chosen, incidentally, after Westminster selected 2050 for itself – and such impertinence has all-but forced the taskforce to consider giving new powers to local authorities to penalise homeowners by adding surcharges to their council tax if they maintain hold-out status.

These are the self-same heat pumps recently described by Lord (formerly Willie) Haughey – a supplier of heat pumps, no less – as ineffective in Scotland on account of their tendency to stop working when the temperature drops to freezing temperatures. This problem might be considered, by some, as a rather fundamental weakness, given heat pumps’ primary objective is to provide heat when the weather gets cold. But such inconveniences are of no consequence to the keepers of Scotland’s conscience, particularly if it means Edinburgh can say it reached its own arbitrary target before Westminster did.

However, it’s the methods proposed, rather than the aims of the policy themselves, that are most worrying. The taskforce’s latest report, as well as suggesting financial retribution for uncooperative homeowners, even suggests that over-55s whose mortgages have been paid off could use some of the equity in their homes to fulfil the Scottish Government’s ambitions. Such a move would represent, even by nationalist standards, an unprecedented and outrageous infringement on private property.

The report talks of “incentives” to encourage Scots to improve their bad behaviour, yet threatening to penalise people financially unless they do as politicians ask does not fall into the category of incentivisation.  An incentive is a positive inducement; what is being proposed by Harvie is a threat – a threat to make millions of people worse off unless they behave in a certain way.

Time and again, the Net Zero agenda is promoted by politicians as something that has no negative aspects, no drawbacks: everything will be rosy, everyone will have a cleaner, better paid job, and no one will be worse off than they are now. Politicians, being politicians, don’t want to be unpopular, which is what would happen if they were up front about the true costs.

This shouldn’t mean we abandon the drive to Net Zero, even if we don’t adhere to the entirely arbitrary deadlines that have been agreed based on the attractiveness of round numbers, rather than the sustainability of those deadlines. But we should be honest to voters about what they will be expected to pay.

As Scotland’s cold weather starts to bite once more, and as millions of Scots start to fret about how they will afford Christmas while paying sky-high heating bills, they have the right to ask whether the Scottish Greens and their political bosses in the SNP have the same priorities as those they govern.

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