Building a New Scotland: Our marine sector in an independent Scotland

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's vision for the marine sector in an independent Scotland.

Future opportunities for our marine sector

Key points:

  • The blue economy is growing in value and importance globally, with the underwater industry estimated to be worth £45 billion by 2035 across the nations of the UK. Scotland would be entitled to a major share of that industry after independence
  • After independence, Scotland would – for the first time – have the ability to negotiate at international level, and join international bodies, in our own right. We would also, after accession, be able to influence the overall approach of the EU where it has competence
  • Independence would provide the Scottish Parliament and Government with the powers and tools to make our own decisions – rather than either having decisions made by the UK Government or being reliant on its consent – to support sectors such as offshore wind energy

Restoring our place at the heart of the EU and reversing the impact of Brexit is vital, but our ambitions for Scotland are not just about recovering lost ground from the recent past. Scotland has vast sustainable development potential waiting to be unlocked to benefit our people, communities and economy. Independence has the opportunity to deliver this potential, making sure that it is the people of Scotland who benefit.

The blue economy

The global blue economy[147] is of huge value. It is expected to be worth $3 trillion in gross value added by 2030,[148] with the subsea element forecast to nearly triple in the coming years, from £50 billion today to £140 billion by 2035.[149], [150]

The UK’s underwater industry, currently valued at almost £8 billion and with a third of the global market share in underwater skills, expertise and technology, has the potential to grow to £45 billion by 2035. This could create an estimated 180,000 new jobs and around £20 billion or more in exports for the nations of the current UK.[151]

An independent Scotland could and should expect to hold a significant share of this and be a major beneficiary.

Our offshore renewables sector

Scotland’s seas are rich in renewable energy resource and potential.[152], [153] The sustainable development of those resources through projects like ScotWind, and the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy more generally, provides an unparalleled opportunity, including:

  • the potential investment of many billions of pounds over a 20-30 year timeline and significant revenues for the Scottish Exchequer, subject to relevant auction and market considerations[154]
  • the potential to support thousands of jobs throughout the offshore wind supply chain – including a commitment from developers to invest an average of £1.4 billion in the Scottish supply chain across the 20 ScotWind projects[155] – over the 20-30 year project lifetime of ScotWind, including skilled, technical jobs such as manufacturing, installation and maintenance, as well as services roles supporting the industry such as legal, environmental management, logistics and planning[156]
  • a direct contribution to Scotland’s goal of reaching net zero by 2045, and tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss
  • the ability to generate enough cheap, green electricity to power Scotland’s economy, as well as a surplus to open up new economic opportunities for export[157]
  • an opportunity to enhance Scotland’s global reputation

The strengths of Scotland’s offshore wind sector, along with our marine energy and green hydrogen potential and extensive and highly regarded marine planning expertise are significant. We are ideally placed to make a direct and significant contribution across a range of both domestic and European strategic agendas; including the European Green Deal,[158] the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030,[159] and the sustainable growth of the blue economy.

It can also make a vital contribution to delivery of the REPowerEU Plan[160] and boosting long term European energy security and independence by providing a clean, stable and reliable energy source.

Full control over the legislative and regulatory framework in relation to consenting could provide Scotland the opportunity to reach its full potential. For example, the Scottish Government should be able to prioritise consents for key renewables projects where appropriate while taking due account of the impact on the environment and other users, thus aiding delivery of Scotland’s Net Zero commitments, and our energy security and supply chain ambitions.

Moreover, we need the ability to make different choices.

That includes developing policy choices that are responsive to Scotland’s distinct needs and aspirations that maximise the benefits of the abundant wind energy resources in Scottish waters. For example, the UK transmission charging regime can be a challenge to delivering renewables development in Scotland that can serve the needs of Europe far beyond Scotland’s borders. In the future we could develop regulatory approaches that work more closely with the energy opportunities and the physical and market geographies in Scotland. Proposals on energy will be set out in more detail later in the Building a New Scotland series.

Scotland’s influence on the world stage

As a nation with some of Europe’s greatest marine potential, Scotland would benefit greatly from having direct influence on the world stage when global policy, legal frameworks and practice are being debated.

The global legal framework for marine matters is also undergoing significant development. This includes, for example, the United Nations agreeing a new international legally-binding treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the area beyond national jurisdiction (the “BBNJ Agreement”) to complement the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.[161]

The agreement of this treaty is in recognition of the fact that the area beyond national jurisdiction (which includes much of the high seas) comprises nearly half the planet’s surface, 64% of the global ocean surface and 95% of the Earth’s total habitat by volume,[162] and not only provide invaluable ecological, economic, social and food security benefits to humanity, but is also in need of urgent protection.

Key features of the BBNJ Agreement include procedures to identify, establish and manage MPAs in the high seas – with a commitment to establish 30% of the world’s oceans as protected areas by 2030, rules for conducting environmental impact assessments in the high seas, agreement on the collection, use and equitable distribution of marine genetic resources, support for developing countries to build and develop their capacity, and necessary institutional arrangements. This agenda is particularly important given the growing global interest in deep seabed mining, and the challenges that this brings.

At COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland showcased our ambition and leadership on marine interests, including the launch of the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge[163] to maximise the potential of blue carbon as a nature-based solution for climate change and promote the benefits of working together and sharing best practice and expertise across nations.

Despite hosting COP26, Scotland – as a non-party government – was only able to participate in COP26 negotiations as part of the UK Government. This means that Scotland cannot be a signatory to the climate pact[164] that arose as a result of the negotiations held in Scotland and which bears the name of our largest city.

Scotland wants to be, and should be, at the forefront of these global agendas and able to share our ideas and experiences as we strive to meet our international obligations, including progress towards the UN sustainability goals,[165] as well as helping to influence solutions to current and emerging challenges; without interference from, or requiring the consent of, the UK Government to undertake such international engagement.

In some cases, such as in relation to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic (OSPAR)[166] we will be able to accede in our own right and will be able to use our significant marine influence directly, and we will seek to do so at the earliest opportunity. And, as an EU member state, in addition to maintaining direct participation in conventions such as OSPAR, we will also be in a position to influence the overall approach of the EU in other forums in which it has competence.

In the Programme for Government 2021-22,[167] the Scottish Government committed to developing a Blue Economy Strategy and delivery plan to set out a holistic approach to the management of Scotland’s marine resources; recognising the mutually beneficial nature of, and connectivity between, sustainable economic growth, inclusiveness and wellbeing and the protection of the environment and biodiversity.

The Blue Economy Vision[168] published in March 2022 is the first step in delivering the overall strategy, and sets out our approach up to 2045 that will deliver our long term aspirations for the marine environment.

Independent countries around the world – from Canada to Croatia, Seychelles to Samoa – are already recognising the benefits of a blue economy approach and are thinking and innovating to unlock those benefits. As long as we are part of the UK, however, and limited by UK Government control over international relations, Scotland cannot fully participate in these cross-border efforts, collaborate and reach agreements, and reap the benefits from doing so, in our own right.

With independence, Scotland would have a voice on the world stage and take its place alongside those other nations to drive that innovation and influence a truly global agenda.

We would also have full powers to legislate and regulate our own marine area and make our own choices rather than being reliant on UK Government agreement; as is currently the case with marine environmental matters, and decision-making around potential “strict protection” measures, in the offshore region.



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