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Watchdog urges SNP to stop using ‘inflated’ offshore wind power statistic

Nicola Sturgeon - Robert Perry/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon - Robert Perry/Getty Images

The UK’s statistics watchdog has called on the SNP to abandon its use of an “inflated” statistic that drastically inflates an independent Scotland’s green energy potential.

Sir Robert Chote, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, revealed that the independent body is “engaging” with the SNP over its “ongoing use” of a debunked claim that Scotland has a quarter of the offshore wind resource potential in Europe.

Research has shown that the figure, cited multiple times by the SNP and the Scottish government over several years, is inaccurate and based on research that excluded green energy powerhouses such as Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Despite ministers being forced to admit that the figure was wrong, the SNP has continued to distribute it on leaflets to voters in a bid to boost support for independence.

On Thursday, it was still cited on the SNP website and social media accounts. Ministers and SNP MPs have also so far defied calls to correct the parliamentary record.

Sir Robert, in a letter to Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, who complained about the use of the figure, said an investigation had confirmed that it was “inflated” and “inaccurate”.

He said: “We understand that Scottish government and ministers are already aware that this 25 per cent figure is inaccurate.

“It is good practice for elected representatives to correct their use of official statistics. My office is engaging with the Scottish National Party about its ongoing use of the claim and with the offices of those who have recently used it to emphasise the importance of using quantitative evidence appropriately.”

‘Spin has now been dismantled’

An investigation by These Islands, a pro-UK  think tank, found Scottish civil servants had privately raised concerns about the accuracy of the figure more than two years ago, warning in October 2020 that it had “proved very difficult to source”.

More up-to-date research was available to show Scotland only has between four and six per cent of Europe’s potential offshore wind power rather than the quarter claimed.

However, the 25 per cent figure was still included in Nicola Sturgeon’s flagship economic plan and cited as recently as last month by Ian Blackford, the SNP’s former Westminster leader.

Stephen Flynn, who ousted Mr Blackford this week, has claimed that Scotland has “25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind capacity” in the Commons twice this year, most recently in October.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “This spin has now been dismantled by the highest statistical authority in the land.

“I fully support the expansion of Scotland’s renewable sector, but the strong case is undermined when the Scottish government and SNP use figures that leave them open to the charge of misleading and misrepresenting.

“The Scottish government must now set out how it will correct the record and whether it will take any action to discourage its own ministers and spokespeople from claiming that yellow is green.”

Leaflets distributed by the SNP in Kirkcaldy last month stated that “Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe's entire offshore wind and tidal resource”. The figure was described as one of “six amazing facts about Scotland”.

The SNP has claimed the figure were correct “at the time of publication”, something Mr Cole-Hamilton said was “not true”, adding that it was “never accurate”.

Challenged over the statistics watchdog’s intervention at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said the 25 per cent figure was “out of date” and “no longer appropriate”, adding: “The fact of the matter is that we have massive renewables potential.”