Dear Sir Robert,

I am writing with regard to the serial misuse and mismanagement of a recently debunked renewable energy statistic by a succession of Scottish National Party and Scottish Green Party ministers and politicians and in Scottish Government documents.

The claim has been that Scotland has 25% of Europe’s renewable energy potential. However research by the thinktank These Islands has demonstrated that this statistic was based on a bogus analysis of a mixture of reports dating all the way back to 1993, when the technology was in its infancy, and using a definition of Europe that excluded renewable powerhouses like Sweden, Norway and Finland. It wasn’t the case that it was accurate in 2010 as a Scottish Government spokesperson claimed last week – it was never accurate.

Freedom of information requests have also revealed that civil servants have been privately warning against its use for at least two years, warning it has “never…been properly sourced” and that the figures had been recycled “robotically without really checking them”.

Nevertheless, this is a claim that has been made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party Ian Blackford, successive Scottish Government environment secretaries, former SNP First Minister Alex Salmond and deputy First Minister John Swinney amongst others. It featured multiple times in the recent SNP-led debate on independence in the House of Commons a fortnight ago.

This matters because this Scottish Government has put this claim at the heart of the debates around Scotland’s energy security, on independence and on meeting our climate targets, including it in their National Strategy for Economic Transformation as recently as March 2022.

I have suggested publicly that the Scottish Government should make a statement to Parliament acknowledging that this figure was not accurate and committing not to repeat the claim further. However, that still leaves unresolved the fact that this bogus fact has littered the public and parliamentary records for years. I would appreciate guidance from the UK Statistics Authority as to what good practice the Government should undertake to clear up the public and parliamentary records.

Should, for example, the government be expected to provide a true figure to inform future debates on renewables generation? Should notes be affixed to the official parliamentary report, acknowledging that this fact is untrue? Should documents such as the National Strategy for Economic Transformation be amended and the corrections made clear?

I fully support the expansion of Scotland’s renewable sector and I desperately want to see Scotland fulfil our renewable potential. But the strong case for that isn’t helped when the figures used by the Scottish Government leave it open to the charge of misleading and misrepresenting. I would appreciate input from the UK Statistics Authority as to how this might be corrected and avoided in future.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP


Related links

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP to Sir Robert Chote – Further letter on Scottish renewable energy statistics

Response from Sir Robert Chote to Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP – Scottish renewable energy statistics