The Scottish Parliament has voted in favour of a permanent ban on shale gas exploration in Scotland, led by victorious Labour MSPs chanting; “No ifs, no buts, no fracking”.
A motion posed by the Labour Party in Scotland – which is now the third-biggest party after gaining just 24 Holyrood MPs in last months’ Scottish parliament elections – was passed by 32 votes to 29 (comprising pro-fracking Tory MSPs)
The minority-led SNP government ordered its 62 MSPs to abstain, while the Greens and Lib Dems also supported Labour.
Although not binding on the Scottish Government, both the vote – and her party’s abstention – is deeply humiliating for Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister, because she herself is ‘deeply sceptical’ about fracking for shale gas.
While acutely embarrassing for Sturgeon, she is likely to have ordered her MSPs to abstain on two main grounds, one political, the other legal;
The political reason for the abstention was to prevent the party’s deep divisions on shale energy erupting into a bitter battle on the floor of the house between pro- and anti-fracking groups.
The legal reason for the abstention is that to simply have accepted the Labour motion and carry – with a huge parliamentary majority – a vote in favour of a permanent ban on fracking would lay the Scottish Government open to legal appeal by way of judicial review (by energy exploration companies) for coming to a (political) conclusion before the (second, and ongoing) scientific review is completed in Spring 2017.
Claudia Beamish, the Labour MSP who tabled the motion in favour of a fulll time ban on fracking, said: “There should be an outright ban on fracking. The SNP may have abstained on the vote, but they cannot ignore the clear position of Scotland’s Parliament.”
“The SNP Government must now clarify whether or not they will respect the will of Parliament and introduce an outright ban on fracking. It would be outrageous for this important vote to be ignored.
Tory MSP Maurice Golden told Sturgeon: “You need to listen to your own advice, and I quote from your own Scottish Government report: ’The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such resources’.
“You need to think about the long-term consequences of blocking an industry that has so much potential to create jobs and increase the security of supply.”
A Holyrood insider said last night: “Sturgeon will simply have to grin and bear the short-term political pain of a Labour ‘victory’ over the SNP in Holyrood.”
In her manifesto last month, Sturgeon also set the scientific and evidence bar against shale impossibly high, stating that ‘unless it can be proven beyond doubt that there is no risk to health, communities or the environment” the ‘temporary moratorium’ on shale gas will remain.
When it announced the shale moratorium last year, the Scot-Govt. also set up a second scientific consultation on the public health aspects of fracking operations – conveniently downplaying the fact that a similar such independent scientific inquiry ordered by Sturgeon’s government had already concluded that there was little risk to public health.
In a further Scottish Parliament setback for the SNP, the Conservatives will appoint the convenor of Holyrood’s Economy Committee (which includes the Scottish energy portfolio).
However, the convenor of Holyrood’s new Environment and Land Reform Committee will be an SNP MSP.
And in another setback for the minority SNP-administration at Holyrood, Liberal MSP Liam McArthur has been nominated as convenor-designate of the All Party Scottish Parliamentary Group on Renewables and the Environment, with Green MSP Mark Ruskell nominated as depute-convenor-designate following the defeat of the SNP’s Jim Eadie in last months’ Scottish general election.
Labour’s motion tabled by MSP Claudia Beamish was accepted by the majority of MSPs who voted, stating that ‘this parliament recognises that, to meet Scotland’s climate change goals and protect the environment, there must be an outright ban on fracking in Scotland.”
A spokesman for the Labour Party in Scotland said it would be “outrageous” if the SNP “ignored” the result of the vote in favour of a total ban on fracking.
Newly-elected Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman lodged another amendment which said that fracking is “incompatible with Scotland’s low-carbon ambitions”.
That the Parliament recognises that, to meet Scotland’s climate change goals and protect the environment, there must be an outright ban on fracking in Scotland;
Agrees that Scotland’s stunning natural environment is one of its most precious assets and reaffirms its commitment to protecting these natural assets for today and the future
Believes that securing Scotland’s long-term prosperity requires the Scottish Government to have ambition, policy coherence and a focus on realising the benefits of a low-carbon economy for people in Scotland;
Supports ambitious action to end fuel poverty, safeguard biodiversity, deliver a step change in community-owned renewable energy
Believes that fracking and other forms of unconventional gas extraction are incompatible with Scotland’s low-carbon ambitions;
Notes that land reform is a process of changing the legal, political, economic and fiscal relationship between society and land across urban, rural and marine Scotland, and believes that this relationship requires radical and ongoing reform to democratise land and ensure that it is owned and used in the public interest and for the common good.
A series of independent scientific reports and academic studies – including the Royal Society of Edinburgh and NHS Public Health England – have all concluded that exploration for shale gas onshore in Scotland by fracking can be carried out safely.
All these reports (which are too numerous to list individually) – can be viewed online in the online archive at:
This archive is live and searchable online at the site.