This article was published as part of our 16-page Manniefest special edition. Click HERE for more information and more articles setting out a vision for the Highlands and Islands after independence.

YOU can say one thing for The Mannie. His statue gives you a feel for the landowner-dominated past of the Highlands.

To the east he looks out on the Beatrice offshore wind farm, the largest in Europe. Behind him to the west is nothing but empty glens. To the south, the towns and cities with foodbanks.

The Beatrice wind farm out in the Moray Firth already produces enough energy to heat 450,000 homes and represents our sustainable future.

And yet, the vast bulk of jobs and income from that renewable energy goes south – to the Westminster exchequer and to construction jobs overseas. Just like the oil and gas industry which preceded it.

In an independent Scotland, that can change – it must.

Caithness is a vast source of renewable energy. Wind, wave, tidal, solar and biomass. There are 333 wind turbines in Caithness with another 200 planned producing a total of 1000 MW – and that excludes the mighty Beatrice.

However, there is little benefit to the local community apart from a few maintenance jobs in Wick. In recent years, a network of overhead transmission lines and under-sea cables was installed to transmit the power directly to Moray and the Central Belt. Meanwhile, the people in the Highlands pay more per unit for electricity than they do in London.

In 1980, my wife Mary and I had the crazy idea to put up a wind turbine to heat our house in Murkle, near Thurso. It was a very early 5kW model and not very reliable. The locals laughed at the idea and the man from the Highland Development Board said they could not support such a “half-baked idea”.

However, the project went ahead and the wind turbine heated two houses for 10 years until it finally fell apart in a gale. At this time, nuclear power was thought to be the energy of the future. The Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) at Dounreay could produce 250MW of power, on a good day. Most of the time it produced nothing.

Fast forward a short 10 years to the turn of the century. Gradually, wind turbine design improved and they became larger and more efficient. Most of the development was taking place in Denmark and Germany – another lost opportunity for Scottish engineering. With government subsidies, windfarms started to appear. Landowners, financial institutions and power firms began to make money from this new technology.

Today, wind power is the cheapest form of energy in the country, replacing coal and the mighty nuclear industry. Dounreay is being decommissioned and the Caithness wind farms have an output in excess of 500MW – double what Dounreay was supposed to produce.

In an independent Scotland, this vast resource should be taken into public ownership to benefit the entire country.

The Pentland Firth was once described by Alex Salmond as “the Saudi Arabia of tidal energy”. This tidal race between the mainland and the island of Stroma runs at around 15 miles an hour – a staggering potential source of energy.

The MayGen tidal project has made a good start, with four turbines in place and generating power into the grid. The Orbital O2 is another unique tidal device, developed in Orkney by Orbital Marine Power. It currently generates 2MW into the local grid and supplies power to an electrolyser to generate green hydrogen. The potential of this energy source is gigantic.

Wick’s district heating scheme is working very well producing hot water for central heating to a large part of the town. It is fuelled by timber from a local forest and is a sustainable, carbon-neutral project. Every town in the Highlands has similar potential, either from timber or using heat-pump technology to capture energy from rivers, lochs or the sea.

Even solar power has potential. Wick was identified in a project by Napier University to have good solar energy potential. Not because Wick is particularly sunny, but because of long daylight hours, which is what is required.

So, considering all these valuable resources, Caithness could be the engine that powers the whole of Scotland – once the Scottish Parliament finally has control over energy in an independent country.