Fracking ‘ban’: A firm stand against the unacceptable, or gesture politics?

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Commentary by Derek Bateman

God, but the air smelled fresh on Great Western Road this morning – yesterday it was one of the UK’s most polluted streets. Now today we’ve banned fracking we can relax in our green, carbon-free, energy-rich garden city.

The sun is out, the flowers in bloom and there’s a sparkle about our new, bolder parliament. No more dirty fuel sources, no more fossil reserves plundered, no more playing up to corrupt billionaires ready to let our homes disappear into sink holes the size of Falkirk.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

I think that’s what happened. Labour has always been against dirty and dangerous fuel sources, hasn’t it? They agreed the mines should be shut during the miners’ strike, I think. Or was it them who abstained in Westminster when a fracking moratorium came up…anyway they’ve always been steadfastly opposed to nuclear too, yeah?

The naked opportunism and hypocrisy of Labour who have now surrendered any notion of sensible economic planning or even adroit government tactics, shows where they now are – desperate to make an impression, any impression, whatever the cost to the nation.

I don’t like fracking and strongly suspect it is the wrong way for Scotland to go. But I don’t know if that’s correct because I haven’t seen anything yet except one-sided propaganda from groups who hijacked the issue when it was barely in the public domain and mounted a successful demonisation campaign. The hair-raising Project Fear effort started at a time when I doubt if 99.9 per cent of the British public had even heard of fracking let alone understood what it was.

Almost everything I’ve seen so far is based on the impact on other countries which is fair as far as it goes but tells us next to nothing about what effect it might have on the geology of Scotland under a strict regulatory regime learning from early mistakes elsewhere. That’s why there is a moratorium and a two-year period in which evidence can be gleaned, consultations held and educated decisions made.

MSPs are perfectly entitled to make up their minds in advance and base their views on their own research but there is a national interest at stake here which demands a responsible and transparent official approach – both to convince the Scots and the drilling companies. A formal process has been instigated in order to examine the case for and against which should be allowed to take its course and provide a definitive response. Instead, in a rush of political adrenaline, the opposition wants to prove its credentials by ‘piling pressure’ on the SNP. To do what? Iain Gray tweeted with the question: Will they plough on regardless? (of the vote). Does he mean plough on with a moratorium which prohibits fracking? Duh…

There is a hothead reaction of course demanding to know why the SNP didn’t vote for an outright ban. Some even said they should defy the courts! Sometimes you have to gather your marbles before you respond to some of these voices. Reasons why the SNP didn’t include:

  • There is already a moratorium in place (that prevents fracking).
  • They are collecting evidence. Voting against at this stage would be a sure sign of bias in whatever decision they eventually make, shaking public faith.
  • The collection of evidence could be made harder if respondents believe the government already has a position on fracking.
  • If they eventually decide to say No to all fracking the companies denied licences will have a stronger legal case to take to court – it would be a clear demonstration of prejudice against their companies’ interests.
  • It would increase the chances of losing a legal case which would be costly, embarrassing for Scotland and wouldn’t stop the fracking going ahead.

But against that the collected opposition could feel really pleased with themselves.

HEADWAY

MSPs should play the political game as best they can and make what headway they are able to but what they can’t do is demand the party of government plays the game with them. The difference between the two sides is that one has executive responsibility and the other has none.

I hope the research shows fracking would be unsafe for our environment and that the government goes ahead to ban it. But I will still be uncomfortable about it because fracked gas will still be imported from the USA and used in Scotland. Eventually, it is likely fracked gas will be imported from England for use in Scotland (so we don’t get out of the environmental hole). A ban gives two fingers to the workforce at Grangemouth, all 1400 of them and 2000 contractors, who will wonder if their government is sane in saying No to a new boom industry.

UnknownToday Scottish unemployment is at a record high. Our economy has been buffeted by the oil price crash (as Labour never stop telling us).

I guess we must be fortunate indeed if we can afford to turn down a new industry offering jobs and money for some pretty bleak communities in Central Scotland. I think before you tell people in Plean, Fallin or Airth that there will be no economic boom for them, you need to present a convincing case. That, I believe, is what the government is doing, not helped in this case by opposition grandstanding.

Here’s a question: if we were discovering oil today instead of gas, would the same MSPs vote against extracting it? After all, it’s fossil fuel, a dirty and dangerous business, it costs lives and wrecks the environment. Didn’t the Liberals who voted for a gas ban yesterday threaten to keep the Shetland oil industry for themselves if Scots voted for independence?

Would MSPs vote against coal mining today on the same basis?

And why, if you’re Labour or Lib Dem, do you want an outright ban on fracking if you support nuclear power?

Are you suggesting fracking is more dangerous than nuclear? Seriously?

This has all the hallmarks of gesture politics – like putting up taxes even if it loses money. When a ban comes we have to hope the SNP remains sensible and does it properly without the parliamentary theatrics.