NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday revealed her government would set up a not-for-profit energy firm offering power at knockdown prices.
The First Minister vowed to have the State-owned electricity and gas supplier up and running within three and a half years.
She announced the move as the centrepiece of her SNP conference speech — trumping Labour and Tory plans for a price cap.
And it later emerged the company — running by May 2021 — would aim to undercut the Big Six energy giants.
Closing the event in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon distracted indy-hungry delegates with the eye-catching power pledge.
She revealed: “The idea, at its heart, is simple. Energy would be bought wholesale or generated here in Scotland — renewable, of course — and sold to customers as close to cost price as possible.
“No shareholders to worry about. No corporate bonuses to consider.
“It would give people, particularly those on low incomes, more choice and the option of a supplier whose only job is to secure the lowest price for consumers.”
Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman later confirmed the new firm would “focus initially” on picking up customers in Scotland and would sell both electricity and gas “as cheaply as possible”.
He added: “It will be up to consumers to decide how they want to get their energy, but the intention is clear it will be open to all consumers at as low a price as possible.”
And he suggested the company undercutting the major suppliers could drag down prices across the board.
The spokesman said: “Obviously if we’re in a situation where more competitive costs are being delivered to the consumer, then you would hope that would have an effect on the market overall.”
The Nats were unable to shed light on issues including set-up costs for the firm — or whether it could be bailed out by the public purse if it went to the wall.
But the First Minister’s spokesman said more details would be provided in the government’s new energy strategy, due by the end of the year.
Alex Neill, from consumer campaigners Which?, said: “Millions of Scots worried about energy prices will welcome action to tackle their rising bills.
“The Scottish Government must ensure that this intervention really does deliver a fairer deal for energy customers. For now, customers sitting on expensive standard variable tariffs should look to switch to a better deal straight away.”
The promise came amid a battle by the main parties to respond to public anger over energy prices with Labour under Ed Miliband, then the Tories under Theresa May, both vowing to impose price caps on the market.
The idea was first raised in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto.
And asked if the policy was an attempt to trump Labour and the Tories, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said: “No, because we set out the plan in the 2016 election.”
Quizzed on whether they were worried about big employers like Scottish Power reacting with hostility to the move, he added: “There’s a free and fair market place.
“I’m sure other companies will price themselves as competitively as possible.”
Ms Sturgeon — who mocked Theresa May’s conference cough by brandishing Strepsils and quipping “I’ve come prepared” — focused on domestic policies in her 50-minute speech.
The gathering at the SECC comes three months after the Nats leader pulled back from a second indy vote before Brexit in the wake of losses at June’s General Election.
As we revealed yesterday, she told how her focus was now on the next ten years in power at Holyrood. Other pledges in her speech included exempting youngsters leaving care from paying council tax.
She also confirmed new details on schemes such as providing free sanitary products to students, and forking out fees for EU national public sector workers to stay after Brexit.
Ahead of the Scottish Budget in December, Ms Sturgeon — who was later hugged by her dad Robin after the speech — also appeared to pave the way for potential tax rises for the better off.
She did not give any details, but said: “It is right to consider how our limited tax powers might help us protect what we value most.”
Before Ms Sturgeon took to the stage, activists had whooped and cheered suggestions of pushing for another independence vote.
She again linked the idea of indy to Brexit, telling the packed arena: “The case for independence doesn’t depend on Brexit. But Brexit does show us what can happen when we don’t control our own future.”
But the SNP leader, who was cheered on by a crowd including party bigwigs John Swinney and Angus Robertson, was careful to hedge her bets.
She refused to shift from her position that she will only decide on the timing of any second ballot at the end of 2018.
Last night Labour said the speech showed the SNP were worried about Jeremy Corbyn.
The Scottish party’s caretaker leader Alex Rowley accused the SNP of “a decade of broken promises”, while Tory Maurice Golden said: “Nicola Sturgeon put her reckless plan for a second referendum before her day job.
But instead of apologising, the First Minister once again showed that the SNP simply doesn’t do humility.”
CHEER OF THE DAY
Firebrand Mhairi Black got a standing ovation for slamming Jeremy Corbyn and issuing a rallying call for IndyRef2, declaring: “Let’s get out there and get our independence.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Former MP John Nicolson rules out growing facial fuzz like ex-Westminster leader Angus Robertson: “I grew a beard when I was a student and looked like a Viking fisherman. Then I grew a beard a wee while ago and looked like Father Christmas.”
JOKE OF THE DAY
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, often mistaken for lawyer Aamer Anwar: “Some of those feeling the after-effects of conference karaoke are probably looking at this stage going, ‘Why is Aamer Anwar addressing the SNP conference?’”
TWIT OF THE DAY
Ousted Angus Robertson boasting “the SNP has won the last seven elections in a row” — but ignoring the fact he lost his Moray seat to Tory Douglas Ross in June’s snap poll.
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Despite the hierarchy trying to stage-manage their conference to tiptoe around independence, members reminded them it’s all the SNP care about.”
Last night, energy firms claimed they were happy at the prospect of a Holyrood-owned supplier.
A ScottishPower spokesman insisted: “We welcome new entrants into this vibrant market.”
Lawrence Slade, chief executive of umbrella body Energy UK, was also supportive.
He said: “New entrants increase competition and benefit consumers by driving innovation, investment and improvements to service.”
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