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Nuclear exchange

Brian Taylor | 13:50 UK time, Thursday, 25 September 2008

Stands Scottish Labour where it did on nuclear power? I ask because of some intriguing exchanges at first minister's questions.

Well, I found them intriguing. To be frank, the previous position of Scottish Labour was pretty opaque on the atomic question.

Formally, it hadn't closed the door on new nuclear generation. But Labour ministers said they wouldn't sanction new plants unless and until they were convinced that the resultant waste could be handled.

Up to the point of demitting office, they were not sufficiently convinced.

Plus the Lib Dem component of the coalition was resolutely against nuclear. Plus Jack McConnell, personally, seemed notably keener on renewables - while, of course, advancing the formal line.

As a reminder, energy policy is reserved to Westminster - but the deployment of individual nuclear stations would fall to Holyrood under devolved powers.

The issue arose today because Labour's Iain Gray was questioning the first minister about the take over of the nuclear company British Energy by the French firm EDF.

'SNP dogma'

Mr Gray is the MSP for East Lothian, home to Torness.

British Energy's HQ is in East Kilbride. Mr Gray suggested Alex Salmond was being either "ironic" or "hypocritical" or "bonkers" in seeking to retain those Scottish jobs - while simultaneously rejecting new nuclear generation.

To be precise, Mr Gray was quoting newspaper commentators in chucking those epithets in the direction of the FM. These were not, you understand, to be taken as the direct opinions of Scottish Labour.

Perhaps just as well. Because, in response, Mr Salmond was able to quote Sarah Boyack - Mr Gray's spokeswoman on the environment - as saying that she felt the case for new nuclear in Scotland had not been made.

Then arose Andy Kerr, Labour frontbencher and MSP for East Kilbride, to accuse Mr Salmond of displaying a closed mind on the issue. He said the FM was "offering the cold shoulder of SNP dogma".

Not much opaque about that, is there? But consider. If the SNP stance on new nuclear is a bad thing, if it is to be condemned by all right-thinking people, then what - precisely - is Labour's stand?

Are they still opposed to new nuclear, pending resolution of the waste issue? Are they still unconvinced?

Alternatively, are they more inclined to endorse new nuclear in Scotland in keeping with the view, for example, of key figures in the trades union movement?

I believe it to be the latter. I believe Scottish Labour's core leadership would now be, intuitively and politically, more sympathetic to the case for new nuclear.

Merely intriguing

I believe they are heeding the view that the waste issue is less germane with the new generation of reactors. I believe that, liberated if you like from their LibDem colleagues, they are more attuned to the nuclear case.

To be fair, the door was never actually closed on new nuclear by Scottish Labour. I believe, however, that it is now more open than previously.

Doesn't mean there is a majority at Holyrood for new nuclear. SNP plus LibDem plus Green adds up to majority opposition to such a prospect.

Doesn't mean either that Labour's altered stance is either intrinsically wrong or right. Or indeed, at this stage, finally and absolutely clear. Merely intriguing.

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