by Ben Acheson
NORTH AYRSHIRE Council has been using primary school children to distribute ‘green’, pro-renewables propaganda on behalf of a wind energy developer. What else is there to say? Is there any need to argue that this is unacceptable, downright deplorable behaviour? Surely that one sentence sums up the ethics of wind farm developers.
For anyone who is still ‘on the fence’ about wind power, this astounding news should help to make up their minds once and for all. For the renewable lobby, it is damning evidence that illustrates how developers are nothing more than subsidy-hungry profiteers.
Last weekend, the news broke that primary school pupils from Dalry Primary School and St Palladius Primary School in North Ayrshire had been handed a letter written by Community Windpower Ltd, which encouraged their parents to endorse a planning application for an extension to Millour Hill Wind Farm. The children, some as young as five years old, were given the material as part of North Ayrshire Council’s attempts to distribute material on behalf of the developer.
When asked about the story, North Ayrshire SNP Councillor Tony Gurney, Cabinet Member for Education, Attainment and Achievement, said that the authority sanctioned the distribution of the letter on the basis that “There is no cost to the school in doing this and it encourages the schools to play a more active role in the community.” He added that “We [the Council] are currently reviewing guidance to headteachers to allow distribution of materials which play a role in supporting the local community and encouraging local people to play an active role.”
But even Edward Bernays, Alistair Campbell and Karl Rove together couldn’t spin North Ayrshire Council out of this one. Forget that children were used as political pawns for a second; the simple fact is that a branch of a local authority has chosen to distribute pro-development publicity on behalf of developers, while another branch of the same authority is tasked with scrutinising the same plans. Democracy does not exist in North Ayrshire. It is completely unreasonable to expect local stakeholders and residents to have faith in the local authority’s capacity to deliver objective, evidence-based planning decisions, if the council’s own policies and the preferences of individual councillors allow developers to campaign using school time and resources.
There are few words which adequately capture how disgraceful it was of North Ayrshire Council to use young children to try and influence a planning decision which is tied to a politically-sensitive issue. ‘Morally reprehensible’ is the best phrase I can think of. Even Scottish Renewables said that “We would discourage developers against using such indirect means of contacting adults to support an ongoing planning application.”
The fact that North Ayrshire Council saw fit to spread a political message through primary school children is inexcusable, but the real issue here is the lack of concern by politicians, the media and the general public. Sure, a handful of outspoken politicians voiced their concerns and some media outlets covered the story, notably the Sunday Post and the Daily Telegraph. But just a few days after the story broke, it has almost been forgotten about.
If children in the UK were exploited so blatantly to further any other political cause, there would be a popular uprising. What if countryside organisations had spread pro-fox hunting material in schools? Think of any examples of children being (mis)used for political and propaganda purposes and it is communist and/or fascist movements that spring to mind. Since the First World War, the politicisation and (mis)use of children for political purposes has been one of the defining characteristics of many ethnic wars.
But in Scotland, the majority says nothing because the government has convinced us that we are facing impending doom unless we support the unbridled development of ‘green’ wind power. Catastrophe theories have taken over. Rational and logic has ceased to exist. Climate change is a very real threat which must be properly addressed, but does anyone really believe that a lot of windmills will undo the effects of civilisation and change the climate of a planet that has survived much worse than humans over its 4 billion years?
More importantly, it is time we realised that the word ‘green’, which has wrongly become synonymous with ‘clean’, is nothing more than a shameless political marketing slogan. It reflects personal biases and opinions as much as objective and measurable criteria. The word ‘green; won’t be found in any leading science journals or ecological studies. Nothing is measured by how ‘green’ it is. It is not a technical or scientific word. It is merely used interchangeably with other inoffensive words such as ‘renewable’ and ‘sustainable’ to promote services and products that are supposed to be environmentally friendly. Most ‘green’ initiatives, such as wind farms, are purely money-making schemes for greedy developers; the same developers who are now turning to young children to spread their messages.