EXCLUSIVE by James Robertson
Scottish Energy News Political Reporter
IF – as is virtually certain – the SNP win the Scottish general election and form the next Government – one of the most high profile political casualties will be Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Energy Minister, according to senior government and industry sources.
This is because of shale energy.
Whilst Ewing has been fastidious in sitting on the fence to ensure Ministerial neutrality during the (still) ongoing evidential-consultation in the pros and cons of fracking, a small – but highly significant – gap has opened up between him and Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister.
The present Scot-Govt imposed a moratorium on any planning applications related to shale gas in January last year and subsequently called for an evidence-based inquiry based on probative scientific grounds.
But in the last debate on shale gas in Holyrood, Sturgeon admitted that she was ‘frankly sceptical’ about fracking.
It is this gap – between Sturgeon’s ‘scepticism’ and Ewing’s ‘neutrality’ that senior civil servants at St. Andrew’s House say will lead to the political downfall of Fergus Ewing as Scottish Energy Minister next month.
This information is corroborated by anti-wind farm campaigners who also believe Ewing will be re-shuffled after the Holyrood election because he is not nearly ‘as sceptical’ as Sturgeon is about fracking.
Sturgeon has, in effect, ‘outed’ Ewing over fracking by publicly expressing a view based – not on evidence – but on ‘political faith’ and expediency, thereby leaving the Scottish Energy and Enterprise Minister exposed by default.
If Sturgeon does sack Ewing as Scottish Energy Minister – it will create not only a deep row within the SNP (especially if he leaves the cabinet altogether, rather than ‘merely’ being shuffled into another portfolio) – but will also trigger dismay in the fossil-fuel energy industry in Scotland.
The SNP is also deeply divided internally over shale energy – split from top to bottom over fracking – and last year used internal party procedural ploys to keep a call for a complete ban on Scottish shale industry from being debated at the party’s conference.
Ewing enjoys the professional respect of senior managers across all sectors in Scottish energy industries – from solar to wind and hydro, and from gas and oil to shale – as an open, approachable and fair Minister.
But firing Fergus Ewing would enable a fracking-sceptical Sturgeon to give way to her party’s grass roots and claim – as now also seems likely – multi-party support in Holyrood after the 5 May elections.
The same result is likely even if Sturgeon ‘simply’ demotes Ewing by stripping the energy element of his ministerial portfolio from him (he is also the minister for Enterprise and Tourism) – perhaps merging it into Deputy First Minister John Swinney’s huge department.
On the latest political opinion polls, the SNP are odds-on certainties to win the election and form a third, majority SNP-government. There will be Labour MSPs (even if fewer of them) in the new parliament and party leader Kezia Dugdale last month came out and vowed that her party will oppose fracking in Scotland.
Willie Rennie, Liberal leader has ignored his party’s conference motion in support of shale energy – and there will also be a couple of LibDem MSPs in the next parliament (although he is not guaranteed to be one of them)
And on current opinion polls, with the Scottish Green party sitting at 10% in the ‘second vote’ list, there could up to 10 new Green MSPs elected to Holyrood next month.
This would leave the Tories as the only political party in Holyrood supporting a Scottish shale energy industry – and clear the way for shale-sceptical Sturgeon to claim ‘the vast major of Scottish people don’t want fracking’ – irrespective of the scientific evidence.
NB This is the kind of ‘insider’ story which the Scottish Parliament doesn’t want you to know and which it tries to prevent by imposing a BAN on Scottish Energy News because it is not real media (unlike ‘Oor Wullie’s Voice’)
See also Holyrood fracking debate in:
Scottish Parliament BAN on Scottish Energy News is a BAN ON DEMOCRACY
A spokesman said: “We need to generate 50% of all our energy use from renewables by 2030.
“An energy-secure Scotland can prioritise energy generation within and for our communities. We do not need to rely on traditional, dirty fuel sources; nor must we turn to unsafe, high-risk methods of fracking and unconventional gas extraction to satisfy our energy demand.
“Scotland has mined coal for centuries and more recently drilled for oil to power our society and provide livelihoods. We now know that our dependency on fossil fuels has to end, leaving reserves in the ground, if we are to limit the effects of climate change.
“We’re fighting a new fossil fuels front. New technologies have emerged in recent years allowing for the extraction of hard-to-reach fossil fuel reserves through processes of fracking and underground coal gasification. These technologies carry significant risks: environmental pollution, health problems for communities close to extraction sites and no guarantee of lower fuel prices.”
Licences to drill for unconventional fuels have been issued for sites around the Forth and central Scotland, threatening communities in the area.
The Green manifesto adds: “We will continue to oppose Scotland increasing its dependency on unsustainable fossil fuels and instead argue for resources to be channelled towards creating a range of thriving and efficient renewable energy sources.”
As for the Grangemouth petro-chemical refinery – where INEOS is already importing Dragon-class super-tanker loads of gas because of diminishing supplies from the maturing N. Sea oil basin – the Greens say the plant would ‘remain a key asset’ during the transition away from fossil fuels.
A spokesman added: “We will call for increased investment in the research, development and demonstration of alternative bio-based feedstocks at Grangemouth to reduce dependency on petrochemicals. We will keep options open to support a public-worker ownership model.”
LETTER TO EDITOR from Scotland Against Spin
Your piece Shale-sceptic Sturgeon to fire Fergus Ewing as Scottish Energy Minister over fracking claims corroboration from anti-wind farm campaigners “who also believe Ewing will be re-shuffled after the Holyrood election because he is not nearly ‘as sceptical’ as Sturgeon is about fracking”.
I am an anti-wind farm campaigner who had heard rumours from various sources that Mr Ewing would cease to be Energy Minister after the election. However, this was never in relation to his stance on fracking – it was never even mentioned in the conversations I had – and the word was that Mr Ewing was looking at a promotion to a Secretary-level post in Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet.
Given the widely acknowledged skill and tact with which Mr Ewing has handled a tough brief for longer (I think) than any of his colleagues with other ministries, and given the dearth of suitably experienced, skilled and reliable Cabinet candidates for Ms Sturgeon to choose from, it’s no surprise Mr Ewing is heading for Cabinet promotion.
What is beyond doubt is that polling shows the Scottish Greens are in line to take a break-through 11-12 seats in the Scottish Parliament, and the SNP are worried. A major reason the SNP is leaking votes to the Greens is over the issue of fracking, and Nicola Sturgeon needs to build up her “shale-sceptic” credentials since she doesn’t want to commit to an outright ban on fracking (or else she would already have stolen the Greens’ thunder and just banned it).
If I were an SNP spin doctor, it would have been a no-brainer to spin rumours of Fergus Ewing’s imminent departure to bolster my leader’s anti-fracking credentials in the run-up to the election.
The bottom line is that Fergus Ewing’s “fence-sitting” on fracking has the full authority and support of Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney – whatever else it might be convenient for anti-fracking voters to believe.
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