Scotland politics

SNP conference 2015: Members reject fracking ban call

fracking in preston Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ineos has acquired fracking rights in central Scotland

SNP members at the party conference have rejected calls for the party to back an outright ban on fracking.

The party's Leith branch had tabled a motion to the SNP conference backing the Scottish government's current moratorium on fracking.

Several speakers called for the motion to be revised and strengthened.

However, an effort to remit the motion back for revision was defeated by 427 votes to 554 and it was carried by the conference.

The issue has continued to prove divisive for the party, despite SNP ministers extending the moratorium last week to cover underground coal gasification (UCG).

Jim Ratcliffe, chief executive of chemical company Ineos, has urged the Scottish government not to delay a decision on the technology for too long, saying it offers Scotland a "last chance" to gain economic independence.

But the conference debate on the motion showed the strength of opposition to fracking among many grassroots SNP members.

Analysis by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

Ministers have announced a moratorium, deferring a decision until 2017. Separately, they have announced a delay, presently without a timetable, on Underground Coal Gasification.

Several delegates were unhappy and said so volubly. They wanted an outright ban, citing environmental and safety concerns. There was discontent with the Scottish government position.

In the event, though, any outright rebellion was headed off on this one. Delegates ended up backing the moratorium. Demands to shelve that to permit eventual support for a total ban were defeated - although it was suggested by one critic of the Scottish government stance that harder line motions had not made it on to the agenda.

Like the moratorium itself, however, this may be simply a problem deferred for SNP ministers. The mood expressed at conference was decidedly hostile to fracking - although perhaps supporters or those who are unsure sat on their hands. For example, it was decided to leave the debate to the delegates, with no minister intervening.

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Ineos was attacked during the debate by members including Iain Black from the SNP's Forth branch, one of the founding members of SMAUG (SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas).

Mr Black told delegates: "We believe that the evidence and the science absolutely and overwhelmingly supports a ban.

"There's science and then there's science that's paid for by big business with research grants.

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Media captionA tour around the SNP conference venue

"The SNP is about healthy communities, you can't have healthy communities if you destroy the land, if you destroy the air, if you destroy the water that we drink.

"It's Scotland's land, it's Scotland's air, it's Scotland's water."

Delegate John Page said the motion backing the moratorium was "not good enough".

'Contentious issue'

He added: "I'm unhappy with this motion, I suggest this motion is remitted and that the SNP comes back and more widely reflects its membership and the wider community."

SNP ministers have said the moratorium will allow for more research and consultation on the technique, a process which is not expected to be completed until spring 2017.

Calum McCaig, SNP MP for Aberdeen South, speaking in favour of the motion, said: "What I would like to see is the whole analysis of the whole remit of this contentious issue from a source that I can trust.

"I trust our government to do this and to do it correctly."

Ineos, which runs the Grangemouth plant, has acquired fracking exploration licences across 700sq miles of central Scotland.

The company proposes using shale gas as a raw material for its chemical plants, and has revealed plans to put millions into exploration.

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