frackDo Labour actually want to see fracking in Scotland? Looks like it.

Because a fracking free-for-all is the real risk of their pointless political gesture in parliament on Wednesday when they successful tabled an amendment for an immediate fracking ban.

The Tories voted against the amendment and the SNP abstained.

Fortunately the Scottish Government is not bound by this vote.

Scotland will continue to be the only part of the UK where fracking is being stopped – thanks to the SNP moratorium.

I write as someone who has consistently argued against fracking, even when it meant disagreeing with the previous energy minister’s approach before 2015. So my record is a little more consistent on this matter than Labour politicians, who have flip flopped on the subject – of which more later.

The immediate outright ban which Labour’s motion called for would make Scotland more vulnerable to losing a legal challenge from the big fracking companies.

Fracking companies could claim the ban was politically driven, that there was no real consultation, and the evidence the Scottish Government had already commissioned suggested fracking was safe.

That’s the great unspoken.

If we introduce a ban now we will do so having commissioned just one piece of completed work which is not particularly helpful.

I refer to the “Independent Expert Panel” of 2014, which reported around the time of the referendum during the reign of previous energy minister Fergus Ewing.

Fortunately the timing meant that it got little publicity, although the Tories are fond of quoting it, for obvious reasons.

That expert panel did not come down heavily enough on the social, environmental and health consequences of unconventionals.

Several of the members of the panel, who were mainly from a technical background, had associations with the fossil fuel and extractive industries. There was little or no public health, environmental or community input.

frackingscotland_670The panel included Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University who has been positively gung ho about unconventionals and dismissive of those who challenge that view.

It was clear to me that this expert panel was not going to publish a report that opposed fracking. It didn’t.

So I was delighted when the Scottish Government changed direction in 2015, announced the moratorium – the only one in Scotland – and commissioned five different pieces of research into transport impacts, decommissioning, seismic monitoring, climate change and economic impact. These will be followed by a full public consultation. A public health impact assessment is also being carried out by Health Protection Scotland.

We have a new energy minister in charge, Paul Wheelhouse, whose track record should reassure all those concerned about fracking. As Environment Minister in 2013 Paul worked behind the scenes to ensure that a SEPA license allowing fracking issued to Dart Energy in Canonbie was surrendered. This is not widely known – it should be. I have every confidence, knowing Paul as I do, that he will ensure that the research process is conducted with total impartiality and is as exhaustive as possible.

We have a new energy minister in charge, Paul Wheelhouse, whose track record should reassure all those concerned about fracking. As Environment Minister in 2013 Paul worked behind the scenes to ensure that a SEPA license allowing fracking issued to Dart Energy in Canonbie was surrendered. This is not widely known – it should be. I have every confidence, knowing Paul as I do, that he will ensure that the research process is conducted with total impartiality and is as exhaustive as possible.

So we are in a good place with a good minister. We have a moratorium which has already driven INEOS to move some of its fracking expertise to Yorkshire according to reports this week.

Once all the research is completed, and a full consultation is carried out, the Scottish Government will have a far more wide-ranging block of evidence to defend any challenge to a ban in court. They will also be able to show, through the public consultation, that the people of Scotland are behind them.

This is why the SNP abstained on the vote yesterday. If government ministers “showed their hand” at this stage, before their evidence was gathered, that vote would be used against them in future court cases, should they happen.

In the meantime, we remain frack free.

So Labour’s timing is terrible. Why would they want us to impose a ban before we have the evidence to ensure it is not overturned?

Political opportunism, as always, is driving the increasingly wonky Labour machine. Labour have vacillated on fracking to an embarrassing extent. Just last year their MPs at Westminster failed to join the SNP in voting for a moratorium in the UK.

Tom Greatrex, the former shadow energy spokesman, said fracking could go ahead only if there were “robust regulation and comprehensive inspection”, a similar conclusion to the expert panel.

In a debate in the Scottish Parliament in 2014, Iain Gray MSP described shale gas as a “potential energy source” and argued for stronger planning to make it safe.

Jim Murphy pulled “local referendums” on fracking out of the hat in one of his desperate, failed tricks before last year’s General Election.

What happened to that policy? Why did it change?

Stopping fracking was never Labour’s priority. This vote was about stopping the SNP.

It was gesture politics – to a dangerous degree.

 

*** PLEASE GO HERE TO SUPPORT US – DONATE and SHARE. ***

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)