On Saturday 12 March the Saudi authorities executed 81 people. It was a callous and brutal act that is characteristic of a regime with a long and shameful history of repression and abuse.
Only four days later Boris Johnson headed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for talks with Saudi royalty. Three more people were executed that day. But it wasn’t the executions or human rights that were on top of the agenda, it was oil and arms.
The visit was shameless, but it was not surprising. The reality is that successive UK governments have been all too happy to cozy-up to the Saudi rulers as long as the oil has kept flowing and they have kept buying UK-made weapons.
The backdrop to this support has been the daily oppression of people in Saudi Arabia and the devastating war in Yemen. This month makes it seven years since Saudi forces began a brutal and relentless bombardment of Yemen, and the results have been catastrophic.
Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed, with weddings, parties and even funerals being bombed. The humanitarian crisis that has been inflicted is the worst in the world, with UNICEF estimating that a shocking 377,000 people have died as a result of the war.
The UK government has not just been an observer in the conflict, it has been an active participant. Many of the Saudi pilots were trained by UK forces. They are flying UK-made planes while firing UK-made missiles and dropping UK-made bombs.
The rights and lives of people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen matter, and they cannot be discarded in the name of oil contracts and arms deals. Replacing Putin’s gas with Saudi oil is no solution. Our energy future must lie with clean, domestically generated renewable energy, rather than relying on dirty and compromising deals with dictatorships.
The Prime Minister and his colleagues could learn a lot from Germany. The German government’s response to the crisis in Ukraine has been to halt the certification of a gas pipeline to Russia and double-down on renewables. Earlier this month the German government published plans to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
It’s not just Germany that is making the change. Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the European Commission has called for a continent-wide “dash into renewable energy at lightning speed.”
It is a challenge we are stepping up to in Scotland, with record investment in renewables and ambitious plans to double on-shore wind. This shift won’t just be good for our environment and our economy, but also for our national security.
There is so much more that we want to do. Scotland has 25 per cent of all the offshore renewable potential in Europe. But we don’t have the power to upgrade our own electricity grid to accommodate those renewables. We don’t have the power to lay offshore cables to export that energy. We don’t have the power we need to make the full transition that is so necessary.
With independence, Scotland can follow an energy policy that is fuelled by renewables rather than repression. Instead of hypocritical and self-serving relationships with autocrats, we can follow a human rights-based foreign policy and stand in solidarity with people being abused, rather than arming and supporting those that are abusing them.