Fracking looks certain to be a key Green issue at this General Election and beyond. Given that it offers the possibility for the same old faces to inflict environmental damage on local communities in the hope of making a load of money (and keeping the fossil fuel industry going!), how could it not be?
As we haven’t been able to field a candidate in East Renfrewshire for this election, I thought it would be interesting to ask the candidates who are standing whether they would support Greenpeace’s Frack Free Promise.
Of the four candidates who were asked (again, I ignored UKIP, and again, you’re free to contact them about this if you want) only two responded.
Graeme Cowie (Liberal Democrats) was the first to reply once again, stating that “It’s a question for local communities to decide. Not opposed in principle to fracking but strong safeguards are needed.”
When I thanked him for his response and advised him that the Greens took a stronger stance on this matter, he said: “If the hustings this week was anything to go by, none of the other candidates will have any “stronger” a stance on this.” The deployment of inverted commas suggests that Mr Cowie may not share our characterisation of our anti-fracking stance, but perhaps that’s to be expected. What we have here is an honest disagreement around the question of when you legislate to prevent harm, a key liberal issue and one that we take seriously.
If members of the Scottish Greens are more fundamentally opposed to fracking than Mr Cowie does, we may at least accept that his commitment to empowering local communities as being in keeping with a Green emphasis on decentralised power. Green candidate for Edinburgh East Peter McColl made a similar commitment on the same topic earlier today:
Like so many other injustices, fracking is the result of a power imbalance. The power is held by distant, unaccountable politicians who are easily manipulated by corporate interests, while those most likely to be affected have little say.
Greens believe in bringing decision-making as close to the people as possible. We don’t just want powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but to Councils, and right down to local communities.
That’s not too far from what our local Liberal Democrat candidate said, give or take the odd qualifier.
What about the other candidates? Well, Jim Muprhy (Labour) didn’t respond, but it has been pointed out to me that given that he was absent from the House of Commons when the amendments to the Infrastructure Bill were being voted on, his commitment on this point would have lacked a degree of believability anyway. David Montgomery (Conservatives) continuing his unbroken run of ignoring our enquiries – you may read into that whatever you wish.
After a wee bit of cajoling, Kirsten Oswald (SNP) sent the following response via email:
The SNP Scottish Government are taking a cautious, considered and evidence – based approach to fracking.
The Scottish Government have put in place a moratorium on granting consents for unconventional oil and gas developments whilst further research and public consultation is carried out. The moratorium and planned public consultation was welcomed by Friends of the Earth Scotland. Ministers have recently held pre-consultation meetings with key stakeholders including environmental NGOs, community organisations and industry representatives.
The SNP is completely opposed to the UK Government’s plans to allow companies to frack underneath people’s homes without their consent and I am pleased that Scotland will be excluded from these plans. With the powers devolved to the Scottish Government, planning guidance has been strengthened, and buffer zones have been introduced.
Again, we see a resistance to banning fracking outright combined with a nod in the direction of localised control over the matter, and a mention of increased safety measures.
The Greens can’t take full credit for the Scottish Government’s moratorium on fracking or for Labour’s determination to look like they’ll take immediate action on this subject, but we’ve definitely been putting pressure on the mainstream parties and we intend to keep it up. The responses (and lack thereof) from our candidates show that there’s a need for Green voices to be heard here – remember, none of the candidates in question signed the Greenpeace Frack Free Promise in the end – and again, we can’t wait to give you the option to vote for those voices next year!
In the meantime, I hope that my efforts will also give you an idea of how well East Renfrewshire’s options for this election match your own feelings on this matter.
More tomorrow, on the response from East Renfrewshire candidates on Common Weal’s Red Lines campaign!