Scotland politics

Scottish energy minister attacks Ed Miliband's energy price freeze plan

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has attacked Labour's promise of a UK-wide energy price freeze.

Ed Miliband has pledged to make the big energy companies freeze their prices for 20 months if Labour wins the next general election.

Mr Ewing said the policy had been condemned as "completely unworkable".

But Labour said failure to match Mr Miliband's commitment placed the Scottish government on the wrong side of the argument.

Speaking at Holyrood, Labour's former Scottish leader Iain Gray challenged the energy minister to match the price freeze for an independent Scotland.

However, in reply, Mr Ewing said a similar policy had led to blackouts in California.

He proposed an alternative "super-regulator" for an independent Scotland, which would oversee water, rail, telecoms and the energy industries.

The minister added: "The record of regulators in the UK when one considers regulation of banking, the railway or payday loans isn't one to boast about.

"Consumer experts have said that before this freeze comes in the companies will whack the prices sky-high and companies may put off decisions by energy companies to invest in new cleaner generation capacity.

"An arbitrary price freeze has been tried before in California in 2000, which led to blackouts and an increase in the wholesale price of 800%.

"Never can I recall a measure introduced by a leader of a major political party in the UK which has received such widespread, utter and total condemnation as being completely unworkable.

"And worst of all for Scotland, such an arbitrary measure threatens to impair the essential investment in renewable energy schemes which are so important for this country."

The Scottish government recently announced the setting up of an expert commission to look at how the gas and electricity industry might be regulated in an independent Scotland.

In a statement released following Mr Ewing's remarks, it said the expert commission could consider the feasibility of a price freeze on gas and electricity prices in an independent Scotland

'Control prices'

Speaking after the exchange at Holyrood, Mr Gray said: "Sadly, the SNP has chosen the side of the big energy firms over hard-pressed families being hit with growing energy bills.

"Ed Miliband's plan to freeze energy bills and reform the energy market was welcomed by families who will be dismayed that the SNP government has failed to match this pledge.

"Not only are the SNP refusing to support a price freeze, they have set their face against a regulator with the power to control prices in the long run. Fergus Ewing spoke today for the energy companies and against the Scottish consumer."

On Wednesday, Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance described the price freeze proposal as "very well intended" but urged Mr Miliband to publish the research behind the policy.

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur said: "The nationalists are all over the place. In two days two ministers have taken two diametrically opposed positions.

"This demonstrates that the nationalists will say anything to anyone to achieve independence. I tend to agree with the Mr Ewing. It's a pity his own ministerial colleagues don't seem to."

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