Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish independence hopes scuppered? SNP's £60 billion wind energy blunder is nearly as bad as Darien Scheme – John McLellan

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If releasing her tax returns was designed to deflect attention from the most difficult week of her time as First Minster since the Salmond trial aftermath, Nicola Sturgeon must have been sorely disappointed.

No sooner had the podium been packed away from Monday’s Bute House press conference, than the headlines began to pop up: personal details released by accident, no memory of when she first knew her husband had bunged the SNP a £100k loan, and, no, she doesn’t make up ruinous policies like the alcohol advertising ban on the hoof which has put her government at loggerheads with the Scotch whisky industry.

At the end of last week, Ms Sturgeon said Isla Bryson was a male rapist pretending to be a woman, but this week it was back to “she”. And no, SNP MSPs who voted against gender reform don’t have to leave the party, despite two of her close allies saying emphatically that’s precisely what they should do.

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If publishing her earnings, accompanied by the humble entreaty that her sole income was her meagre £163,000 First Minister’s salary (not to mention her £450,000 pension pot) was meant to shame other political leaders and burnish her halo, none but the most devoted were listening.

Scotland sold off rights to develop offshore wind farms far too cheaply, according to a new report (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)Scotland sold off rights to develop offshore wind farms far too cheaply, according to a new report (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Scotland sold off rights to develop offshore wind farms far too cheaply, according to a new report (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

This year may well turn out to be Ms Sturgeon’s annus miserabilis, with growing concern within the SNP that her “de facto” referendum plan for the next general election is not a masterstroke but a misjudgement which could kill off the independence movement, so next month’s “independence strategy conference” looks like a handbrake turn dressed up as democratic consultation.

More trouble is on the way with the ill-considered drinks container deposit-return scheme. Set to be foisted on an unsuspecting public in the summer, it will put the price of everything in a can or bottle up by 20p and is hitting internal SNP resistance. As if this isn’t bad enough, claims this week that her government has lost Scotland £60 billion in a bargain-basement sale of offshore energy rights for a £775m song could prove catastrophic for the economic case for independence and any residual reputation for competence her government has left.

What Ms Sturgeon billed as a “truly historic” opportunity for the net-zero economy could instead be a bonanza for foreign state-owned energy companies, with supply-chain benefits going abroad because the Scottish Government failed to honour a promise to establish Scotland’s own state energy company.

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The modern SNP built the case for independence around the “It’s our oil” campaign and hoped for a repeat with renewables, so flogging off the benefits to the likes of Sweden’s Vattenfall and Ireland’s ESB looks like pawning the family silver before it has been inherited. That the analysis of the ScotWind sell-off comes from the left-wing, pro-independence think tank Common Weal makes it worse, and nationalist commentators are already pointing out that claiming to be short-changed by the £41m block grant from Westminster is laughable if the SNP has blown £60bn and the basis of a future sovereign wealth fund.

It might not be quite the Darien Scheme without the boats and disease, but close to it. For a year which Ms Sturgeon planned would be the home straight in the marathon to independence, who knew someone so reputedly sure-footed would have strewn it with tacks.

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