Redaction of minister's name from email on debunked Scottish Government wind statistic sparks 'cover-up' accusations

The name of one of Scotland’s most senior Cabinet ministers was redacted from a note discussing the “double-checking” of a wind energy statistic the Government later admitted was false, it can be revealed.

Michael Matheson, the Cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, was involved in discussions around the inclusion of wind energy statistics in the Scottish Government’s independence prospectus on the economy with the First Minister’s Policy Unit in late September last year, emails show.

This included discussions around the use of the now debunked claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind energy potential, something officials said they were “double-checking” following the meeting with the senior SNP figure.

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The revelation undermines the claim ministers were only made aware of issues around the figure the day before the publication of a report debunking the statistic by the pro-union think-tank, These Islands, on November 8.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to Kype Muir windfarm near Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, to mark the grid connection of the UK's tallest wind turbine.First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to Kype Muir windfarm near Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, to mark the grid connection of the UK's tallest wind turbine.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to Kype Muir windfarm near Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, to mark the grid connection of the UK's tallest wind turbine.

However, the politician’s involvement is only coming to light now after it emerged his name was redacted from a Freedom of Information (FOI) response last year. There is an exemption for personal data being published, but this should not apply to ministers, apart from in exceptional circumstances.

It has led to critics labelling the redaction of Mr Matheson’s name and involvement in discussions around the statistic as “an attempt to cover-up the truth”. However, the Government said the redaction was made “in error”.

Emails sent on September 29 show Mr Matheson pushed for the Government to increase the references to the “scale of the renewable energy potential in Scotland (new box)” in the independence paper on the economy during an afternoon meeting on the same day.

Officials state in a follow-up email on the same day they were “double checking one of the stats” before quoting the 25 per cent wind energy figure, further undermining the claim ministers did not know the figure was incorrect before November 8.

One message, sent just 12 minutes before the email mentioning Mr Matheson, admits there was a “question mark” around the figure.

Multiple disclosures have raised questions around this claim as Scottish Government civil servants complained as early as October 2020 the claim had never been “properly sourced”.

A month before the report on October 3, officials said it was time to “try and put this one out to grass” in relation to the statistic, which they agreed was being used “without much evidence”.

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Prior to this, the statistic was regularly used and cited by ministers in Holyrood, SNP MPs in Westminster, and activists online and in campaign material. It was still being used weeks after the claim was debunked on SNP leaflets.

Sam Taylor, who runs These Islands, said the Scottish Parliament had “almost certainly been misled” about when ministers knew the figure was incorrect.

He said: “The redaction of Matheson’s name from the original FOI response is highly suspicious, and suggests an attempt to cover up the truth.

"We now have irrefutable evidence placing a Cabinet minister at the centre of discussions about the questionable status of the 25 per cent figure, several weeks before the Scottish Government is claiming it first became aware of the issue.”

Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative net zero spokesperson, said it was “difficult to see any justification” for the redaction of Mr Matheson’s name.

He said: “The best thing the SNP-Green government could do here is come clean about the dodgy figure and admit it’s got this badly wrong. Instead, it seems to be doubling down on secrecy whilst striving to protect those who should be facing up to this apparent deception.

“It’s no wonder people are so furious at the lack of transparency, which, as we see again with these revelations, comes right from the heart of the Scottish Government.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As Ms [Lorna] Slater said in the chamber, ministers became aware of the report by These Islands on November 8. We are now working to produce a replacement statistic regarding Scotland’s offshore wind potential and the replacement statistic will be provided in due course.”

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