The fracking ban that wasn’t a ban?

The fracking ban that wasn’t a ban?

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 11, May, 2018

The Scottish government could not have been more clear. One senior figure after another repeated it boldly: fracking had been banned in Scotland.

In October last year, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: “Let me be clear, because to some ears it will sound as if some members are dancing on the head of a pin: fracking is being banned in Scotland – end of story”.

The Scottish government’s website contained the headline “Scottish Parliament backs ban”. The Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP said: “an effective ban using our devolved planning powers is now in place”.

The SNP’s leader-in-waiting (in his own head, at least), Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP, told the SNP conference: “Let me make it abundantly clear – under the SNP’s watch there will be no fracking in Scotland! And for the benefit of Scottish Labour who are somehow still greeting about our ban on fracking, bizarrely claiming it isn’t a ban – it is”.

Even the SNP’s party political broadcast, which hit our screens a few weeks ago, had a character welcoming the SNP government having “banned fracking”.

On at least ten separate occasions, senior figures within the SNP stated that fracking was banned in Scotland. And yet, this message does not seem to have reached the government’s own lawyers.

The government is currently defending a legal action taken by petrochemical companies INEOS and ReachCSG seeking to overturn the ban. Pleading for the government, advocate James Mure QC, told the court that the ban was not actually in place. Mr Mure advised the Court of Session that the Scottish government had not “yet adopted a position on whether to impose a ban, with a final decision not due until later this year”.

All that was in place was a temporary moratorium, and only in October 2018 would a final decision be made.Mr Mure told the court: “The concept of an effective ban is a gloss. It is the language of a press statement. What they have done is pronounce a preferred position on the issue. They have not yet adopted a position”.

This rather begs the question, when is a ban not a ban? It is very clear from the various public pronouncements from SNP ministers and official spokesmen, that the Scottish government considers that a fracking ban is in place. Yet, in the context of a court action, their own representative argues precisely the opposite.

I can only imagine what the lawyers acting for INEOS and ReachCSG are making of this. They must be rubbing their hands in delight at the prospect of exposing to the court the contradiction between the Scottish Government’s pleadings there, and what has been said elsewhere.

But this raises other, equally serious issues. For if the SNP government can tell a court of law that the position is quite different from something they have stated publicly on numerous occasions, how on earth can we trust a word they say in the future?

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives last year, I made it clear that we do not support a ban on fracking. This is an area where policy making should follow the scientific evidence, and in this case the science is clear. The Scottish government’s own expert scientific panel concluded that fracking could be conducted safely in Scotland, provided appropriate regulation was put in place.

The SNP chose to ignore the scientific evidence, chose to disregard the opportunity to create jobs in Scotland, and instead chose to cosy up to the anti-business Greens in the hope of attracting their support in the Scottish Parliament.

That was the wrong decision – wrong for the economy, wrong for jobs, wrong for our energy security, and wrong for our carbon footprint. But it was quite clear at the time, that it was intended to be a proper ban on fracking, and not just a public relation “gloss”, as the Scottish government are now arguing in court.

As my colleague Alexander Burnett said on Wednesday, this would be funny if it were not so serious. The SNP now urgently need to explain to parliament why they are saying one thing in court and telling the Scottish Parliament something completely different. In the absence of any rational explanation, the credibility of this SNP government can only be diminished still further.

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