Fracking at First Minister’s Questions

Friday March 4th 2016

Article by Labour MSP Iain Gray

This week’s FMQs proved quite eventful. Firstly Kezia Dugdale unveiled a new manifesto pledge from Scottish Labour:

Scottish Labour will ban fracking in Scotland.

That is a hardening of our position, and there is a good reason for that. In last year’s election, our policy was a “triple lock” on fracking which included a local referendum before fracking could be allowed. I was always pretty sure that this would rule it out in East Lothian, in any circumstance I could imagine, so it was a policy designed to amount to a ban.

In the meantime though, the new Scotland Act, which devolves to Scotland the powers, recommended by the Smith Commission changes the legislative context for fracking in Scotland.

This is the act which depended on an agreement about the “Fiscal Framework”, which was of course achieved in the past week or so.

As a member of the Smith Commission I made sure that it recommended all powers over onshore gas extraction (including fracking) would be devolved, and the Scotland Act does just that.

So the Scottish Parliament will soon have the power to ban fracking in Scotland and Scottish Labour would use that power to implement such a ban.

That is very clear. What is much less clear is Nicola Sturgeon’s position on fracking.

In response to Kezia, she simply kept repeating that she had imposed a moratorium on fracking, and tried to impy that was the same thing. But it is not. A moratorium is only a temporary delay.

Indeed moments before FMQs started, the Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing had made it absolutely clear that the moratorium was a temporary measure, and the SNP government had not made up its mind whether it will allow fracking or not.

He was very clear that they had commissioned research to see how safe it is and would only decide when they had the results.

Now, I do think it is important to listen to scientific evidence. My guess is that the research the Scottish government is doing will say fracking is safe, because the engineering community do think it is a safe process. However I also know that there is a consensus amongst Climate Change scientists, that we should be using less, not more fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Fracked gas is of course an entirely new source of fossil fuel, as well as involving methane which is a particularly damaging greenhouse gas.

On the basis of that science, and the new powers coming to Scotland, Scottish Labour has taken the decision to support a ban. After all voters are entitled to know what our position is before they vote in the election.

Unfortunately, the SNP disagree. They are only going to decide if they are for or against fracking in 2017, after the election. The implication of their position seems to be that if the research says fracking is safe, then they will give it the green light.

Yet they are unwilling to say that honestly and straightforwardly to the voters.

To make matters even murkier, companies who want to frack, not least INEOS, appear to have been given assurances by the Scottish Government that this is all just a delay. Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS has said that he was told by the First Minister that the SNP are NOT against fracking. Indeed that was in a meeting she had with him the very day the temporary moratorium was announced to Parliament.

My colleagues have tried to see the minutes of those meetings using Freedom of Information requests, but the government are refusing to make them available. You could be forgiven for thinking they had something to hide.

In spite of all this, at last year’s election SNP candidates sported badges carrying the slogan “Frack Off”, and promised on their leaflets that the SNP were anti-fracking.

The SNP really have been well and truly caught out saying one thing to voters, another in parliament, and something else again to the fracking companies.

That is what happened at FMQs this week.

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