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Holyrood must shake off its bunker mentality

Terry MurdenThe Scottish government has made much of its commitment to business and innovation but it has managed to score two more own goals even while most of its ministers are on holiday.

Last week’s ban on farmers growing genetically modified crops was a response to scare stories about Frankenstein food and children being born with three heads.

What the decision really did was punch another hole in farmers’ balance sheets and scare off investors in an innovative industry. It will deny the Scotland the fruits of valuable research and set the country back at least a generation. So much for supporting life sciences.

Now the Westminster government has stolen a march by allowing shale gas planning applications to be fast-tracked under measures to crack down on councils that delay making a decision.

Councils will be told they must rule on applications within the current 16-week statutory timeframe. If they continue to dilly-dally, ministers will have the power to decide all future applications in that area.

Environmentalists are kicking up stink, but the government has decided that the country’s energy needs are paramount and has declared that developing shale gas is a national priority.

This is another potential point of conflict between Holyrood and the UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd who earlier this year scrapped subsidies for onshore wind farms beloved of the SNP-led administration.

Fracking“We need more secure, home grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that. We can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years” said Rudd. Agree or disagree, she is clearly is a woman who knows her own mind.

Aside from Ms Rudd’s get-on-with-it attitude, the fracking decision puts another wedge between policy north and south of the border that threatens to leave Scotland playing catch up when it finally realises that it cannot sit on valuable natural resources that could reduce energy costs and provide an alternative to other forms of more expensive fuel.

While some investigators and tree huggers try to demonise shale gas extraction, the facts speak for themselves. The tax take from North Sea oil and gas tax has collapsed by £6 billion over three years and the Office for Budget Responsibility has drastically reduced its long-term expectations.

The Scottish government is seriously at risk of losing its way on energy policy. It has a long-standing opposition to nuclear power and conspicuously said nothing when a number of Scottish companies were shortlisted for big opportunities at the new Hinkley plant in Somerset.

Wave technology is unproven and has brought companies down attempting to crack it. Wind farms are being cancelled because of the ending of the Renewables Obligation. Oil is running out. Now we have the shale issue.

The Scottish government must know it cannot continue being in denial.

 

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