Edinburgh MP candidates grilled on green policy at climate hustings

Edinburgh general election candidates laid out their party’s stance on climate and economic issues a week out from the July 4 poll.

A climate hustings hosted by Friends of the Earth Scotland and other environmental groups on Friday, June 29 saw a climate-concerned audience pose questions to candidates from various Edinburgh districts.

The contenders showcased their party’s green policy targets when an audience member asked how they would persuade the public to support decarbonisation.

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The questioner said: “We all know what needs to be done, but how do we take the fear away from the change that is needed? How can governance change to make delivery faster?”

Amanda Grimm, the Greens hopeful for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, declared her intention to “kick out” fossil fuel lobbyists from Parliament and advertising - which brought applause from the audience.

She said: “People are struggling. They’re afraid of change, quite rightly. So far, transition hasn’t been very just in many ways. That’s where fairer economic policies come in.

“The Greens are proposing universal basic income to give people basic security. We have to make society fairer and then people will be more open to change.”

Scott Arthur, Labour candidate for Edinburgh South West - and the convener of the Edinburgh Council Transport and Environment Committee - said he had “learned the value of working cross-party” from his experience on the council.

He said: “There’s quite a lot of consensus on the committee, more than you would imagine. I think there’s great value in that.

“I believe a lot of the problems at the heart of the UK are around the electoral system. I think if we had proportional representation in the UK, parties would be working together much better.”

Bruce Wilson, the Liberal Democrat contestant for Edinburgh South West, lauded Mr Arthur for his support of proportional representation.

He said: “It was great to hear Scott, a Labour candidate, say he was in favour of it for Westminster because that’s a huge thing and it’s not currently in the Labour manifesto.”

Mr. Wilson joked that “while I hope he doesn’t win because I’m up against him”, he hoped Mr. Arthur would push Keir Starmer on proportional representation if elected as the South West MP.

He continued: “We had Brexit, we had Scottish independence. We can’t discuss important things like climate change if we are fighting about separation. Carbon doesn’t care about borders.”

Ben MacPherson, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, said that the UK has a “problem with tribalism” and that people want to see politicians work together more.

He said: “I want to see plenty of SNP MPs in the House of Commons pushing for Scotland’s voice to be heard.”

The audience continued to push the candidates on their commitment to green policies, with one member asking whether they would back the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty in Westminster.

The international agreement proposes a ban on oil and gas expansion and creates, according to the audience member, a “global exit plan and a just transition” towards green energy.

Ms Grimm was strongly in favour of the initiative, saying the Treaty was part of the Greens’ manifesto and that she had personally signed onto the agreement.

She said: “A vote for the Greens is a vote showing that you want to push for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“We have a particular historic responsibility in the UK because we have benefitted so much from fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution.”

Mr. Wilson, said “it sounds like a good scheme” but that he was unable to commit to the policy before reading up on it more.

However, he said: “Everything [the Liberal Democrats] aim to do is about ending the proliferation of fossil fuels. This is the biggest challenge our global society has ever faced.”

Mr Arthur was similarly noncommital to the Treaty but expressed support for its overall goals. He said: “I’ve got to see more details about it but it sounds like a step in the right direction.

“The UK has a very small part in [overall] emissions but our per capita emissions are quite high. We have a responsibility to take leadership in this area but I would need to see more detail.”

Mr Macpherson, also the Deputy Convener for the Scottish government’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, said the Treaty was being given “consideration” from Holyrood.

He said: “This is of course an international challenge. Some years ago, it was good to see Scotland hosting COP, and we need to continue that momentum.”

During the one-and-a-half hour hustings, candidates were also grilled on their stance on new North Sea oil licences.

Ms Grimm was firm that the Greens do not support new oil and gas.

She said: “The International Energy Agency has said that no new oil and gas are compatible with keeping temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees.”

Mr Arthur declared Labour’s intention to raise the Windfall tax on oil companies and to halt new exploration licenses in the North Sea, but acknowledged that “the oil and gas sector is going to remain in North East Scotland for decades to come.”

He continued: “Across the next five years if we get a Labour government directed, we will move Scotland away from the sector towards green energy.”

Mr Wilson said that we need to focus on limiting carbon usage in home heating to reduce the need for oil and gas in the first place.

He then asked for an audience show of hands on who owned a gas boiler and who had an air source heat pump - showing that almost the entire audience owned gas boilers rather than the greener latter option.

Mr Wilson said: “Under the current Scottish government scheme, we are on track for taking 100 years to get enough air source heat pumps for homes.

“We have the technology to get to net zero, but it’s too difficult for normal people to access it. We talk about the just transition, but the government needs to step up and do more.”

Mr Macpherson took aim at Mr Wilson’s criticism, saying that the Liz Truss government and Labour pressures exacerbated budget cuts, making it difficult for the SNP to achieve certain green targets.

He said: “The SNP has a clear commitment between all the parties that we need to move towards net zero with urgency.”

All parties elected to the Scottish government were invited to send a candidate to the hustings - meaning Reform UK, Alba, and the Independence Party were excluded. The Conservatives were the only party that declined the invitation.

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