A FUNNY thing happened last week, something unusual in recent Scottish politics. The SNP -Green coalition announced – with great fanfare – the results of its so-called “ScotWind” round of auctions for offshore renewables projects. Seventeen wind energy projects, with a combined potential generating capacity of perhaps 25GW, were granted licences by the Scottish Crown Estates. In return, the Scottish Government will net £700 million in fees.

These auctions were hailed by the First Minister as a “truly historic” waystage in Scotland’s transition to a net-zero economy. Ross Greer, the leftish Green MSP, was truly ecstatic at the announcement, calling it “monumental” and claiming it would “double Europe’s total existing offshore wind energy capacity”.

Except that many commentators and economists – including this one – found themselves underwhelmed by the outcome of the ScotWind auction – a ludicrous PR appellation, by the way, which fooled nobody. In fact, the chorus of negative criticism regarding the hawking of Scotland’s wing energy potential to a bunch of foreign energy conglomerates and international investors was unexpectedly deafening.

It is rare for the Scottish Government to receive such a drubbing from its own supporters in the independence movement, never mind a carefully cultivated media. Normally, the coalition is guaranteed a positive press when it announces some step towards net zero, no matter how minimal.

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By and large, the FM and the SNP administration – now bolstered by Green Party ministers – can claim to be marching the nation to a post-carbon future with reasonable success. What has gone wrong this time? The Herald newspaper, for instance, splashed on a story headed “Scotland set to lose billions in wind farm profits” while even leading SNP loyalists went public to state their worries about foreign financial interests being handed ownership of the nation’s vital renewable energy source.

Defenders of the auction were swift to reply, claiming it brought much-needed foreign investment. In addition to the fee revenue going to ScotGov, we are promised £1 billion in supply chain investments for every gigawatt of energy produced. Besides, we were cautioned, in these difficult economic times, it would be impossible for Holyrood to furnish that sort of cash from the public purse. Delightful, then, that altruistic foreign investors should be willing to come up with that kind of dosh for Scotland.

Except, of course, that past history suggests these rosy predictions won’t see the light of day. And it is precisely such exaggerated promises that have made folk extremely wary of taking the word of the FM or Ross Greer this time. For instance, back in 2010 the deputy first minister, John Swinney, famously promised that wind energy would provide Scotland with 28,000 new jobs within the decade. Alas, by 2020, only a couple of thousand had materialised.

What caused this failure? First, the rollout of wind energy has proved to be much slower than the politicians were promised by the big energy companies. In any licensing round, the energy majors exaggerate what they will deliver, claiming that high royalties to the state will only subtract from the fund available for investment. Gullible politicians anxious for quick results are only too happy to defer to the energy giants. The latter, of course, will only build at the rate that suits them and their shareholders.

To date, there is only one large-scale wind farm in operation in Scottish waters – the 84-turbine Beatrice operation to the east of Caithness. Beatrice is owned by three investors. The first is Red Rock, which is Chinese state-owned (Stewart McDonald MP please note).

The second is the banally named Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, registered in Denmark. That sounds innocuous but CIP is actually an investment vehicle which takes money from international clients and re-invests in energy projects and transmission systems across the world.

THE third owner is SSE, a company with a titular HQ in Perth but actually registered in Switzerland. Who owns SSE? A quick look at its share book reveals that more than one-quarter is controlled by big US investors.

The point here is that the profits from electricity generation in the Beatrice wind farm go to Wall Street, Shanghai and other big imperial financial centres. They do not go to Scotland. True, we get some of the pickings in terms of being part of the supply chain. But even here there is less available than one might think. One of Beatrice’s owners, CIP, has a close business link with Vestas, the Danish turbine manufacturer. So expect CIP to use Vestas in its projects.

This explains why the gains from offshore energy have gone largely to foreign investors and foreign constructors. That is unlikely to change with the latest licensing round – regardless of any promises (Ross Greer please note).

The latest auction began with a proviso from the Scottish Crown Estates that bids from small (ie Scottish) energy companies would be included. But a last-minute panic led the Crown Estates (prompted by ScotGov) to raise the minimum bid thresholds, effectively excluding local investors.

True, this garnered a bit of extra cash. But if Ross Greer thinks a fee of £700m is sufficient for licences which he claims will double Europe’s wind energy, then he is being either naive or disingenuous.

WATCH: Anas Sarwar and Nicola Sturgeon clash over ScotWind firms

But what of the claim that the real bonanza is in the total capital investment in the supply chain – money ScotGov could not possibly find from its own resources? The flaw in this argument is simple: you don’t need to auction off access to Scotland’s natural resources to foreign bidders in order to mobilise investment. As China showed during its development phase in the 1980s and 1990s, the solution is to force foreign investors to accept joint-venture arrangements Every wind farm in the latest auction round should be a joint-venture company, 50% owned by a new, state-owned Scottish National Renewables company. ScotGov would put in the access as its contribution, while the energy companies would put up the capital. Joint ownership and managerial control would also ensure that construction jobs come to Scotland. And it would mean ScotGov could force the pace of the buildout on pain of the project’s ownership reverting to local control.

The SNP-Green coalition has eschewed such an approach in favour of making a quick buck. But then the whole economic policy of the SNP leadership over the past decades has been to rely on inward investment at the expense of local re-industrialisation.

The obvious downside is that foreign investors only come to Scotland to access our natural resources. As a result, the 21st century has seen Scotland’s economy deliberately re-orientated from high-value, high-wage manufacturing towards a neo-colonial model. One based on extracting local resources for the world market – gas, oil, agricultural produce and fish. This is not only unsustainable, it restricts growth to the needs of foreign investors.

Here lies the danger in the SNP government’s decision – abetted by the acquiescence of its Green partners – to abandon the party’s commitment to creating a state-owned energy company. The issue is not a lack of domestic expertise or public funds. Joint-venture arrangements with the energy companies could have gotten round these alleged difficulties. But by handing ownership and direction to the international energy giants, Scotland has removed itself from the negotiating table in return for a paltry £700m.