Jim Murphy’s Frackingly Good Plan

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After claiming they lacked the powers to deal with fracking, the Scottish Government has now come off the fence and blocked it in Scotland until further research is undertaken by them (cover, today). Who doubts that this research will be published shortly after the 2016 Holyrood election?

What this research will add to the debate is not entirely clear. Existing published work shows that even modest environmental regulation will mean that the problems faced in the USA will be easily avoided or render fracking non-viable.

The real challenge facing fracking in Scotland is that much of the reserves are within or near urban areas – much of them former mining towns and villages. Whilst the environment may be safe, fracking in these areas will come with significant disruption, particularly in the early stages of development.

If the Scottish Government does back fracking, and I feel it will, it must therefore ensure that local communities are convinced it is safe and also that they benefit directly.

Jim Murphy’s proposal for a local referendum appears to be ideally suited to this. It will force frackers to engage directly with communities by making binding environmental protection commitments and to support community projects. Such an approach would channel a fair share of the profits into some of Scotland’s most deprived areas.

Nicola’s lack of leadership on the oil, and how Jim can Benefit

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Euan McColm had a good piece in the Scotland on Sunday today relating to Ms Sturgeon’s lack of leadership on the oil price crash. Of course, the problem the First Minister faces is that the crisis simultaneously highlights the problems associated with an economy overly reliant on oil and also the benefits of Scotland being part of the much larger UK economy. The news that the fall in oil price was not even discussed at the Scottish Cabinet meeting this week confirms this point.

The implicit question posed by McColm concerns Alex Salmond – would he have handled the situation differently? He would have and he did. Mid-week, in order to defend his successor, he tried to move our attention back to the SNP’s obsession – constitutional change. However, his suggestion that “Home Rule” could be won in May’s General Election quickly fell victim to the oil price crash when its was highlighted that it would  mean Scotland would have to shoulder the full impact alone. Mr Salmond may well view that as a price worth paying, but it would be economic madness.

Amongst all this turmoil, Jim Murphy is gaining credibility by showing leadership in the vacuum created by the Scottish Government – he may even have momentum. In my view, he needs to play a subtle game however. He must highlight the SNP’s weakness on oil economics without alienating the left-leaning Yes voters with “I told you so” rhetoric. He needs to keep the focus on public services and the impact the SNP’s oil economics would have on them. He needs to encourage left-leaning Yes voters to judge the SNP on their record, not their constitutional nirvana.