Leaders: Fracking in Scotland | Tory fundraiser

Anti-fracking demonstrators gather outside the Ineos plant in Grangemouth. Picture: Michael Gillen

Anti-fracking demonstrators gather outside the Ineos plant in Grangemouth. Picture: Michael Gillen

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INEOS, the giant firm which runs the Grangemouth petro­chemical site, probably did not win many friends in Scotland with the way it acted over the industrial dispute at the plant in 2013.

In the face of planned strike action, the company shut the plant and threatened to keep it shut. The row then revolved around the plant’s profitability and whether the thousands of workers dependent on it had a future. The firm was accused of “holding Scotland to ransom”. The Scottish and UK governments then got involved and the plant reopened. Relationships slowly got back to normal.

The company has always made it clear that the economics of the plant only worked when it could import cheap shale gas from the US. Then it revealed a plan for major investment in fracking its own fuel supply, from under the Central Belt. But of course there are fears of serious damage to the environment from the technique, and there have been some alarms from the US – though fracking has transformed that country’s economy, and had a major impact on the world economy too.

Politics in Scotland has also transformed. Following the close independence referendum result and the surge in party membership for the SNP, suddenly Labour was on the back foot and its new leader Jim Murphy looked to have a Herculean task in getting support back behind his party. Widespread Labour defeat in Scotland did not just have consequences for Mr Murphy, it also held potential to damage Ed Miliband in terms of seats at Westminster.

But the potential damage to Mr Miliband also held great opportunity for the SNP. Taking over those vulnerable Labour seats might just give the SNP the ability to hold the balance of power in Westminster – and who knows what concessions that could earn them from a desperate UK prime minister.

So, the political stakes in Scotland are high. For the parties it appears they came to the conclusion that all popular causes might have to be embraced.

Mr Murphy moved to say fracking would be banned in Scotland if he became first minister in 2016 and called on the SNP to use existing planning powers to block the controversial practice. Probably sensing his advantage, they did just that and announced a moratorium.

The moratorium on fracking leaves Ineos in a very difficult place – it has now said that without fracking here it is unlikely the Grangemouth plant has a long-term future.

The plant is currently a political football. But the debate should be focussed around the very practical question of whether there is enough confidence in the fracking process to allow Scotland to reap the economic benefits.

It would seem irresponsible to allow such a potential economic advantage to Scotland to be jeopardised by short-term political in-fighting.

The kitten heel is on the other foot

Politics, as we all know, costs money, so we have become used to the various ways that political parties stage the fundraisers they need. But congratulations to the Conservative Party for the stunningly refreshing use of irony and self-parody when it came to putting together the list of items to be auctioned off to raise funds for their general election campaign.

What more hilarious way to subvert prejudices than to play up to the stereotypes that are so often raised at them? “Led by the privileged rich are we? Then have at you!”, one of the party’s elite strategists obviously ­declared.

There was a day of pheasant shooting for eight people, a stay at a luxury chalet for 12 at the top-notch ski resort Verbiers and even dinner at the Carlton Club with Culture Secretary Sajid Javid and his wife, Laura.

Guests could also bid for a trip on a private jet to the Greek island of Santorini and a stay at a Majorcan fortress.

Just to keep the tone of faded glory, stuck-in-the-past they even threw in a private evening at Annabel’s nightclub. It was obviously decided that wall-gaming and swan-stuffing would have given the game away.

They rather ran out of comic steam after that with “a hearty week-night roast chicken dinner” for four with Mr Gove and his wife, the journalist Sarah Vine. Their weekends are obviously for real hob-nobbing.

But they had saved the funniest, the most searing subversion, for the august office of the Home Secretary. Just to underline the irony and the party’s confidence in coming so far from the caricatures that used to afflict it, it offered a shoe shopping expedition with Theresa May. How hilarious is that?

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