Protecting our environment is a top priority for Scottish voters. Behind the economy and the NHS, 26 per cent of people think the environment is one of the most important challenges facing the country.
With the Scottish Government's poor green record and independence obsession, voters want to see real environmental leadership. Scottish Conservatives can win voters' trust by showing an alternative path to tackling climate change and reversing nature's decline, which delivers and grows our economy.
For all the talk of being environmental leaders, the SNP/Green administration has missed seven of its 11 net zero targets. It has botched the twice-delayed introduction of a deposit return scheme to boost recycling.
They've torpedoed the prospect of new nuclear power in Scotland, saying no to the clean energy and jobs it would have provided. And they've failed to harness the potential of our North Sea energy businesses, whose capital, skilled workforce and expertise will build Scotland's renewables, carbon capture and low-carbon hydrogen industries.
Too often on the environment, the Scottish Government has let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Their independence drive has taken their eye off the ball, threatening investment and putting at risk the free trade that Scottish clean energy relies on. Their woeful policies haven't only fallen short of the practical environmental action voters want, but also lost Scotland jobs and investment.
We need a different approach that grasps the tremendous opportunities. Restoring our landscapes and protecting our natural inheritance can boost tourism, especially in the Highlands and Islands. Halting the decline in biodiversity and tackling climate change would also remove the biggest risks to Scottish farmers. But we need to take advantage of being outside the Common Agriculture Policy to design a bespoke scheme that supports Scottish farmers and Scottish nature.
Similarly, Aberdeen and North East Scotland should transition from being the oil capital of Europe to its net zero powerhouse, although we will still need oil & gas for many years to come. We can fully embrace our windy seas and our unrivalled carbon capture and storage potential, but we must ensure the skills base built amongst the 65,000 oil and gas workers is not demonised but utilised. We also need to be part of UK-wide schemes on clean energy, which have attracted billions of pounds of private investment into the net zero transition already.
We can only solve environmental challenges by working together across the UK. Neither nature nor climate change respect borders. If we are going to halt biodiversity decline and reduce our emissions, we cannot go alone. Scotland is not only more attractive to net zero investment within the UK but has a bigger voice on the world stage, as we saw when the world came to Glasgow for COP26.
Only 22 per cent of Scottish voters think this would happen again if Scotland separated from the UK. Voters recognise this, which is why ambitious environmental action can add another persuasive reason why we are better together. A majority of Scottish voters also agree that the renewables transition is easier within the UK, agreeing that it's easier for Scotland to fund new green energy projects, upgrade infrastructure and develop green technologies. A plurality of Scots (44 per cent compared to 31 per cent) think it's easier to reach net zero within the UK than as an independent country. They are right to do so, with clear benefits such as the 1.5GW of Scottish offshore wind, delivered through the UK Government Contracts for Difference, and investment in four pioneering hydrogen projects. Positive environmental action can be unifying, with polls showing that over a third of Yes voters would be more likely to vote to stay if the UK pursued ambitious green policies. By leading on the environment, Scottish Conservatives can help unify people, move the country beyond the nationalists' divisive constitutional debates, and strengthen the union. That's why, together with ten colleagues, I am delighted to join the Conservative Environment Network and its new Scottish Parliamentary Group to champion bold environmental action in Holyrood. To achieve net zero and halt nature's decline, the UK and devolved governments must work together, not against one another. We'll work with both governments to ensure Scotland delivers the net zero transition in a way that boosts jobs and growth. We'll lobby the UK Government to continue to support Scotland's transition and ensure we take advantage of new economic opportunities. And we'll hold the Scottish Government to account for its environmental targets and not let it pass the buck to Westminster when it drops the ball.
First published by the Scottish Daily Express. Murdo Fraser MSP is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.