It’s probably fair to say that the Scottish Government’s heat pump strategy is performing below expectations.
The latest bump in the road to net zero is the £3.5 million price tag now attached to the installation of a new electric heating system in the Crown Office (public prosecutor’s) building in Elgin, Aberdeenshire. That’s a lot of public money for the cost of a single heat pump. Troublesome SNP MSP Fergus Ewing wants to know why the decision to carry out the work was made in the first place.
“This fiscal fiasco is wasting millions of pounds which could be better spent,” said Ewing, who was suspended from the SNP earlier this year after he voted with the opposition at Holyrood in a vote of no confidence against the Scottish Greens environment minister, Lorna Slater “This is the price of having Green ministers in Government. They impose their madcap schemes on normally sensible organisations like the Crown Office – though why they went along with this must be independently reviewed. Surely that huge sum of money should have been used to reduce court delays or help struggling police budgets.”
Well, quite. In fact the list of failing public services in Scotland in desperate need of extra cash is growing daily. The most recent analysis of maths, science and reading in Scottish schools by the Programme of International Student Assessment (Pisa) reveals that Scotland has seen a disastrous fall in standards compared with England.
But still Scottish ministers’ obsession with heat pumps and net zero must take precedence over everything. Partly this is down to the first minister Humza Yousaf’s peculiar commitment to keeping the Scottish Greens on board, even though his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon managed to govern without any parliamentary agreement with the Kelvinside comrades for most of her time in office.
It’s no secret that an increasing number of nationalist MSPs would be entirely relaxed if Slater and her other co-leader, Patrick Harvie, chose to flounce off and abandon their ministerial bicycles. But Yousaf feels the need to keep them on board, perhaps as part of his electoral plan to outflank the Unionist parties by broadcasting his very public commitment to heat pumps and all the other stuff that comes along with the fashionable commitment to net zero.
But there is a political calculation that has not yet been made by politicians of any party, including the SNP, and it’s one that has been brought into sharp focus by the Scottish Government’s own admission that its deadlines for the replacement of domestic gas boilers will have to be delayed by three years.
The exorbitant costs for homeowners strong-armed into replacing their reliable gas central heating systems is all for the good of the planet, ministers like to tell us. But what will happen to the shallow reserve of good will and patience that voters have for politicians’ good intentions when, a few years down the line, after families have been further impoverished by ministerial dictat, it all turns out to have been for naught?
An essential element of the political drive for net zero is the pessimism over the future of the planet, and an immoveable conviction that catastrophic rises in global temperatures will not, ultimately, be avoided. What, then, will Scottish (and UK) ministers say to homeowners stuck with expensive, inefficient heat pumps, having promised them that their financial and home comfort sacrifices would actually make a difference?
The electorate seems, for now, to be acquiescent in the political agenda to make voters pay for the future of the planet. That continued co-operation cannot be taken for granted if those who govern us continue to waste public cash on needlessly expensive projects while at the same time warning us that despite all our efforts, we’re all going to burn anyway.