What The Frack? The Strange Game of Fracking Politics in Scotland


What is going on in Scotland all of a sudden over fracking?

For over a year, the Scottish Government has had in place a moratorium on fracking, which is awaiting the outcome of a report being made in order to satisfy its “cautious, evidence-based approach” on the subject.

The Scottish Government announced last year that the report was not due until Autumn 2016, and is to be followed by a public consultation, which would take the matter into at least early 2017 before a decision would be taken.

It seems that the other parties have now woken-up to the fact that this is all happening after the Scottish Elections of May 2016.

The Scottish Lib Dems, at their conference recently, called for the moratorium to be lifted. Their Policy committee however reversed this decision and the Lib Dems will be looking to ban fracking, rather than just lifting the moratorium. This is despite the amendment being specifically aimed at lifting;

“…the moratorium on planning and licensing for unconventional oil and gas extraction, granting the potential for Scottish-sourced unconventional gas to supply our important petrochemical industry”.

This over-turning of a conference decision has been justified on the basis that delegates had also supported a move to supporting clean, renewable energy, over fossil fuels.

The upshot then is that the Lib Dems now oppose fracking and are calling for a ban.

This turn of events has already been scoffed at by the Co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, who stated yesterday;

“The Liberal Democrats are all over the place on this issue. First they gave fracking the green light when they ran the UK Government’s energy department, then they wanted a ban, then they didn’t, and now their Scottish leadership is going against members’ democratic vote. Nobody thinking of voting LibDem can possibly know what their policy will be next week, never mind the other side of the election.

“The Scottish Greens take pride in being a democratic party, and both our membership and leadership are united in demanding a full ban on fracking and unconventional gas. We will continue to call for a ban and to hold the SNP to account in the next Parliament.”


The official SNP position:

The SNP is taking a cautious, considered and evidenced-based approach to fracking. In January 2015 the SNP Scottish Government placed a moratorium on granting consents for unconventional oil and gas extraction. This will allow health and environmental impact tests to be carried out as well as a full public consultation to allow every interested organisation and any member of the public to input their views.The Scottish Government has been clear that no fracking can or will take place in Scotland while the moratorium remains in place.

The SNP conference of October 2015 had a motion calling for an outright ban, but it was defeated by 550 delegates to 427.

Scottish Labour had called for a moratorium prior to the SNP controlled Scottish Government implementing such in January 2015. They too have changed their position to call for an outright ban, ready for the May elections.

WWF Scotland has welcomed Scottish Labour’s stance, as has Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The UK Government stance on fracking is thus:

The government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. We are encouraging safe and environmentally sound exploration to determine this potential.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used in the extraction of gas from shale rock and has been extensively used over the last 60 years – it is estimated that more than 2.5 million wells have been ‘fracked’ worldwide.

The UK has a strong regulatory regime for exploratory activities , and over 50 years of experience of regulating the onshore oil and gas industry nationally. We are bringing that experience to bear and measures are in place to ensure on-site safety, prevent environmental contamination, mitigate seismic activity and minimise emissions.

Unsurprisingly then, the Scottish Conservatives are pro-fracking and want the moratorium lifted.

So the Scottish Greens, Scottish Lib Dems and Scottish Labour have adopted a ‘ban fracking’ stance whilst the Scottish Tories remain opposed – and all are now in a position opposing the SNP, if from different directions.

The rhetoric on calling for a ban is now heating-up, following these various jostling of positions, with the clear intent of making the SNP’s earlier opposition to fracking appear weak-willed, or worse, purely political; this in comparison to the ‘clear and principled’ position of the other parties.

The SNP is not calling for an outright ban. It is keeping firmly to its line of neutrality pending the report that is still not due for months and not until after the Scottish elections, whilst insisting that fracking cannot happen under its moratorium.

This therefore means that the SNP cannot change its political position in order to counter the shifting positions of some of its opponents. Politically speaking, the SNP is a standing target on the issue for those who say that there should be a ban – as well as to The Tories who want fracking to go ahead.

This all smacks of purely political opportunism by at least the Scotish Lib Dems and Scottish Labour, but given yesterday’s calls from the Scottish Greens, when they also know full well that this fracking report is not due for months, you have to add them to the charge sheet, as well – although to be fair, they never shifted position on the subject.

However, whilst the politicians tow their political lines, the members and activists are finding their’s blurred.

Has the SNP just been using the issue of fracking as a political football; to give itself a veneer of green and attract the environmental vote, whilst leaving itself in a position to give fracking the go-ahead, if it so wants? After all, the fracking lobby seemed to accept the moratorium with little fuss.

As it has since came to light that Nicola Sturgeon had met with one of the fracking companies with exploratory licences on the same day as the moratorium was announced, did she and the SNP Government do a secret deal?

It looks fishy and the Scottish opposition parties are now starting to up the ante prior to the May ballot.

But whilst there is the suggestion that the SNP has been playing both sides, appearing to be anti-fracking whilst perhaps assuring the industry that it would give the go-ahead, this was merely a suspicion, however it gained credence when a consultant who was looking into fracking for the Scottish Government was shown to be very pro-fracking and was then “ditched”.

Concerns were also raised on The Ferret web site.

The SNP were starting to look a little dodgy on the subject, but things might not be quite as they seem.

One of those aforementioned supporters of a ban on fracking, Friends of the Earth Scotland, has produced a Supporter briefing on Legal and Constitutional issues for Unconventional Fossil Fuels that may offer a very different take on what is going on.

In short, whilst supporting a ban on Fossil Fuels, the report indicates that;

 The Scottish Government would potentially be open to legal challenge if it were to put a ban in place before completing the research programme and holding the promised public consultation. They may already be open to legal challenge over the current moratoriums, although whether such a challenge would stand up in court is a different matter.

So a moratorium may be more effective than a ban, as a ban could be overturned at least more easily than a moratorium could be, if a moratorium can be overturned at all.

This has led to the likes of the following memes being posted on social media by SNP supporters in defence of the SNP position:



I have been asking if anyone else can either verify or de-bunk these statements, but in view of the FoE Scotland source material, no one seems to be either able or inclined to do either.

We could therefore be in a position where the SNP Government in Scotland is doing the one thing it can to actually stop fracking, until at least there is solid evidence that it is dangerous – whilst pretending to be neutral on the subject, in order for the charade to succeed.

This also means that Scottish Labour, the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Lib Dems are calling for a ban which could actually lead to the reverse of what they say they want – a ban on fracking that is open to being legally challenged and reversed.

This is all a matter of months prior to a report being due on fracking that could lead to its ban anyway – or show that the process can be performed safely, and that calling for a ban was the wrong call to make.

So have the SNP been playing politics over fracking to give themselves ‘Green credentials’ whilst also placing themselves into a strong, long-term political position, where once the report comes out, their neutral position can be vindicated – but in the short-term fix of being a still target on the issue prior to the Scottish Elections?

If fracking is found to be unsafe, the SNP will be heroes for keeping fracking at bay until it was shown to be so – and if the report says it’s safe, the SNP can take credit for not rushing to judgement and imposing a ban, which would also make those who did call for a ban – Scottish Labour, Scottish Lib Dems and the Scottish Greens – all look silly.

Extending the “upping the ante” metaphor, the fracking issue in Scotland has become the latter stages of a poker tournament, where the audience can see some of the cards on the table, but isn’t sure who has got what in their hand and who is bluffing – but it is increasingly looking like after this hand plays out that someone is going to be leaving without any chips.

After all, someone is going to look really bad at the end of all this. But who?


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