Sketch: Murdo Fraser wants to frack your garden
Parliamentary sketch: A debate on fracking leads to some confusing questions over Scottish Conservative energy policy
Murdo Fraser has been eyeing up your garden.
You probably don’t even know about this. He is a subtle man, after all. But Murdo Fraser has been eyeing up your garden.
Why? It’s a good question, and the Scottish Parliament fracking debate was the place to find out. In fact, the session was well under way before SNP MSP Christina McKelvie dropped that particular bombshell.
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Exchanges had been getting pretty heated, with things culminating in McKelvie claiming that fracking “could take place literally in someone’s backyard”.
What? How? And why? “Murdo Fraser will frack under someone’s house and build a nuclear power station in their back garden,” she expanded. “That is Tory environmental policy.”
MSPs were shocked. Indeed, even Murdo Fraser looked a bit surprised – and it was his idea.
It was a weird plan, there’s no denying that. Why would Fraser want to build a nuclear power plant and a fracking drill so close to each other? It wasn’t structurally feasible, apart from anything else.
But then if you’re going to leave a major uranium stockpile in your shed, what do you expect? Of course Murdo Fraser will be interested. It’s like leaving cheese out and complaining when you get mice.
It had been the Tory MSP that had kicked off responses to Paul Wheelhouse’s statement and, like McKelvie’s wild allegations, most responses took their tone from him.
There’s an art to opposition, after all. You can’t just outright oppose everything, but you have to hold a government to account, and it takes nuance, flexibility and sophistication to walk the line effectively.
Murdo Fraser knows this and started off making a clear attempt to introduce civility into the debate, pondering that it was, “difficult to know which aspect of the SNP’s ludicrous ban on fracking in Scotland is worse”.
Was it their abandonment of evidence? he asked. Or was it their sheer hypocrisy? It was a fair attempt to search for common ground. Unfortunately, though, the SNP members, who can be a testy bunch, seemed to read a degree of criticism in Fraser’s speech and started screaming.
Fraser’s colleague, Jamie Greene, took a slightly calmer approach. “I did not wake up this morning as a born-again fracking champion,” he said, and there are really two ways to take that statement. One was that he had been whipped to support it, and the other is that Murdo Fraser hasn’t got to his garden yet. Which is fortunate, because as someone who looks so much like a garden gnome, Jamie Greene would surely have been at risk.
After that Neil Findlay, who voted against a fracking ban two years ago, was on his feet to boast that he had “opposed fracking from the outset”.
But where were the SNP when Findlay was bravely standing alone, taking on the establishment to call for a ban, in the last few weeks? Prior to the announcement, he said, all we had was “radio silence”. But, “lo and behold”, he taunted, somewhat elaborately, “when the continued moratorium was announced, all of a sudden, those silent, compliant and dutiful backbenchers have found their voices”.
Everyone completely lost it with Findlay’s speech. MSPs screamed. Gillian Martin started heckling. Jackie Baillie actually walked out of the chamber, laughing to herself.
Someone had to restore order. Someone had to introduce some dignity to proceedings. That man was Tory MSP, Brian Whittle.
“There is a legitimate debate to be had here,” he ruminated, “but it has proved to be nigh on impossible to cut through the rhetoric, hostility and, quite frankly, nonsense that seems to characterise any discussion of fracking.”
Thank goodness someone said it. This was meant to be an open-minded discussion of energy policy, but it was quickly descending into incoherent point-scoring.
So what did Whittle have to add? “If only self-righteousness was an energy source,” he chuckled, “we could all huddle round Paul Wheelhouse and his cohorts and keep warm.”
Unfortunately tests have shown that self-righteousness is not in fact an energy source.
And while Jamie Greene had used his speech to object to fracking being called fracking – presumably because it reminds people you are planning to do some fracking – Whittle objected to it being labelled as an ‘unconventional’ form of extraction.
Anyway, he said, wind farms are more unconventional than fracking drills. Arguably, Brian Whittle is more unconventional than either. “You do not have to be Archimedes to recognise that pouring hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete creates significant potential for disruption to the water table,” he said.
At this point it shouldn’t need stating that Brian Whittle is not Archimedes. And while fracking may be conventional, his speech was not. In fact, it was a bit like improvised jazz – an expert could probably tell you that he was jumping around the correct notes, but to the untrained listener, it felt very much like phonic gibberish.
Sadly, Whittle couldn’t win over the rest of the chamber. The matter went to a vote, and the SNP, Labour, the Greens and Lib Dems all went for a ban.
Still, Tory MSPs watched on undeterred. They had lost a battle, but the war goes on, and the Tory tanks were on the SNP’s lawn. Or at least they will be until Murdo Fraser tries to frack underneath it.
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