At long last, we have a decision on fracking in Scotland. As it was put, charitably, by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, the Scottish Government took the scenic route to get there, but in the end there was only one possible destination.
First of all, the economic and environmental impact of fracking was assessed. Six expert reports were commissioned, and while there was a question over the benefits, the reports did not say fracking would be an environmental catastrophe. In fact, if tightly regulated, the risk involved could be minimised.
The matter was then put to public consultation, and it is here where the case for fracking starts to unravel. Of the 60,000 responses received on the issue, 99 per cent were against fracking.
Of course, it is possible that a highly co-ordinated anti-fracking campaign could organise this level of agitation, but even if we were to dismiss those representations, one other factor makes fracking a non-starter: political will, or the lack of it. The SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens all came out against fracking, with only the Conservatives supporting it
In summary, there was neither public nor political support; in contrast, fracking is permitted south of the border, where the Conservatives hold power.
One Conservative MSP described yesterday’s decision as “nothing more than a bid to appease the green elements of the pro-independence movement.” It is of course true that the Scottish Government is pursuing green policies, and fracking would have been a difficult route to have gone down when already committed to wind and wave power. But cross-party support – bar one group – in the Scottish Parliament is not appeasement. It is consensus.
Ineos, who hold fracking licences in Scotland and now cannot proceed with their plans, have responded to the decision by stating that “it will be England that reaps the benefit”, indicating that they – or others – will instead set up fracking operations south of the Border. But we should hardly need to point out that Ineos are not trying to do Scotland a favour here. They want to frack in Scotland because it offers them opportunity and reward, not to boost the Scottish economy.
The Scottish Government now has to answer the question of how it will develop its energy strategy without fracking. It may fail this test, but a bigger failure would have been to ignore public opinion.