The Scottish government would ban fracking if it had the legal power to do so, a senior member of the Scottish National Party has said.
Kirsty Blackman, the party’s deputy leader in the Westminster Parliament, said the current moratorium on planning permission for fracking was the only course open local to the Scottish Government.
She was speaking in response to a question on Radio 4’s Any Questions? broadcast from Dunoon Burgh Hall in Perthshire. A listener asked:
“Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament that ‘Fracking is banned in Scotland. End of story.
“Should Scottish voters take what the First Minister says in Parliament as PR gloss or the truth?”
The question referred to the statement made by Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister Questions in Holyrood on October 5th 2017. Replying to a challenge by Mark Ruskell for the Greens to “get this ban properly over the line”, Ms Sturgeon replied
“Fracking is banned in Scotland. End of story.”
The reference in the question to “gloss” came from last week’s court case in which Ineos and Reach Coal Seam Gas sought a judicial review of the Scottish Government’s decision on fracking. The advocate for the Scottish Government, James Mure QC described the concept of an effective ban as a “gloss”. He said: “It is the language of a press statement”.
Ms Blackman was pressed by Any Questions? host Jonathan Dimbleby, to clarify the Scottish Government’s position. She said:
“The reality is that we don’t support the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland and that’s why a moratorium was introduced in 2015.”
Asked if it amounted to a ban, she replied:
“We don’t have the full powers over this. We’ve had to introduce a moratorium in terms of the planning process. Because it’s through the planning process, a clear legal process has got to be followed.”
“If we had full control of powers we could have just banned fracking in Scotland, not through planning.”
Richard Leonard, the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said he supported the Scottish Government’s position which he described as “tantamount to a ban on fracking”. He pointed out that the oil and gas licencing process is now under the control of the Scottish government.
Regarding the current legal challenges he said:
“These court cases are an interesting test of where the balance of power lies in society. If people democratically decide that they don’t want fracking, surely the democratic mandate of the government should allow them to ban fracking.
“It shouldn’t be that multinational corporations or corporations that are in the hands of one or two powerful individuals should be able to change the energy policy of a country.”
The Conservative Party’s panellist, Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said oil companies in Scotland had told him there was a lack of clarity over the issue:
“[The oil companies] understood originally that the government’s position in Scotland was that they had effectively banned fracking in Scotland and now, when faced with a court challenge, as the government’s advocate said, it was the language of PR and not the language of government, so I’m not really clear where that position leaves them.”
It was left to the fourth member of the panel, American Drew Liquerman, Chair of the Scottish branch of Republicans Overseas, to mount a defence of fracking. He argued that the United States had been fracking for 70 years at over 250,000 sites, and the process had helped the country become energy independent and less reliant on coal.
However, regarding the situation in Scotland he said:
“I believe in freedom and federalism. If Scotland as a society decides they don’t want to have fracking, that’s the democratic will of the people and that’s the democratic will of the government.”
“Fracking if done properly can be safe. But it’s up to the people.”
Any Questions? recording
Discussion on fracking is 37 minutes from the start of the programme.