At First Minister’s questions at Holyood on Thursday, Scottish Labour Leader, Kezia Dugdale posed a series of questions on Scottish Government attitudes to fracking to Nicola Sturgeon.
The First Minister’s familiar attack-dog stance of shouting, scolding and ranting over a fence naturally overbore Ms Dugdale’s points in the moment.
But there were no answers to the questions.
All there was to offer was the threadbare political expedient of the moratorium imposed before the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum to pacify the very strong anti-fracking lobby within and without the SNP. The moratorium was later extended again to prevent losing electoral support. The period of moratorium is to be used to gather and evaluate research into aspects of fracking which are genuine matters of concern.
But it is in the public domain that – just before the announcement of the imposition of a moratorium, Ms Sturgeon had a private and unminuted one-to-one meeting Jim Ratcliffe, owner of the giant Grangemouth refinery through his company, Ineos.
Mr Ratcliffe has invested millions in a major spectrum of fracking licences, many in Scotland and was anxious, pre-indyref 1, to be assured that the Scottish Government would not set its face against this specific method for extracting shale oil and gas.
He made it known later that he had been given such assurances – specifically that the Scottish Government is not opposed to fracking.
He was obviously also assured – the likely purpose of the meetng – that the moratorium to come was not to be read as an oppositional stance, more a matter of political expediency – which was always obvious.
The reality is, as Mr Ratcliffe has underlined and as the serious players in the Scottish Government [to be counted on two fingers] are well aware, the value of fracking to the Scottish economy and to the local provision of affordable fuels, is such that the government is unlikely to be able to turn away from it in its efforts to make an independent Scotland a clearly viable proposition.
Beyond that, there is the serious issue of where – honestly – reliable energy at volume and at all times is othewise going to come from to keep Scotland’s homes, businesses and industries powered; and to enable growth.
The Ineos chief – whose refinery at Grangemouth currently depends for its profitability upon imported shale oil and gas, has also warned that the Scottish Government’s delays and prevarications on the fracking issue has cost Scotland ground which it might profitably have seized – in developing expertise marketable elsewhere. Other countries now occupy that ground.
The Dugdale killer issues
These are issues only the blindly partisan nationalist would set aside and seek to interpret differently.
The Scotland Bill, with the fiscal framework now accepted by both governments, devolves to the Scottish Parliament full control of fracking and related matters. Planning consents are devolved to local authorities, of course – in the fist instance.
But in the case of the controversial windpower, the Scottish Government uses its authority to call in and reverse such decision as it thought necessary. So the total and ultimate power to green-light fracking will come from Holyrood.
Worryingly for the environmentalists opposed to fracking, Ms Dugdale revealed that investigations using Freedom of Information [FoI] had discovered that the Scottish Governemnts environmental agency, SEPA and the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change ‘have agreed to stop minuting conversations on fracking’.
That can only be to prevent FoI requests discovering what they are talking about.
The Labour Leader also revealed that the Scottish Government has commissioned research on decommissioning after fracking; and asked the obvious question: ‘If the First Minister is not planning to frack, why is she preparing for the clean-up?’
A hurried but weak response from a Scottish Government spinner after the parliamentary session insisted that the FM was ‘highly sceptical’ about fracking – but was unable to offer a single example of Ms Sturgeon’s specific concerns.
For the record, For Argyll believes that Scotland will have to – and should – go ahead with fracking.
We see Scottish Labour as equally culpable in putting its own political interests above those of Scotland in going cheaply populist in hardening its opposition to fracking, with an election coming up.
The alternative prospects of an economy unable to grow because it cannot deliver the requisite guaranteed power to support development; and of a society forced backwards in evolutionary terms, able to have light and power only at specific times and also subject to sudden power outages – is inconceivable and unacceptable.
New nuclear is the longer term solution – but that will not be quick. Only fracking will get Scotland over the limbo period where, otherwise, sustained reliable power supplies at the necessary level cannot be guaranteed.
It is far from impossible to licence fracking in the context of viable key environmentally protective requirements which will reduce but do not cripple the profitability of production.
There is a serious and available expert in the field – Professor Paul Younger at Glasgow University – whose voice needs to be heard and listened to on this issue. The examples of what fracking has done for – and will apparently do for up to a hundred years – for the economies of North America cannot be ignored.
While we are convinced 0f the economic imperative of fracking in the interests of Scotland – and in the context of the permanent contraction of North Sea activity after recovery, we have contempt for the SNP Government’s lack of political courage in explaining the case to its powerful opposition faction; and its failure to be open about its probable intentions, identifying the issues on which it would first have to be satisfied.
A governmental default position of deception is dishonourable and insupportable.
A bland and unspecific ‘highly sceptical’ butters no parsnips.