Ineos and Fracking


Ineos, owned by billionaire Jim Radcliff, resident in the clean environment of Switzerland, has commenced proceedings via the Scottish Courts to sue the Scottish Government over its ban on Fracking.

To be precise, two of his companies, Ineos Upstream and Reach Coal Seam Gas, went to court and “won”, firstly,  the right to a judicial review and secondly, a case to potentially sue the Scottish Government for a claim to damages under “Human Rights” laws.

We should all be very worried!

It is a remarkable situation that Scotland, in union within the UK, has vast oil and gas reserves which, almost in its entirety, is exported for processing into finished product elsewhere.

The last thing we need in the Scottish economy is an industry which, at a minimum, is highly questionable on environmental grounds and which is based on the relative absence of a benefit from “down stream” processing from our existing oil and gas wealth. Why would anyone believe that by permitting fracking across the former Scottish coal fields (closed and abandoned in the 1980s despite there being 800+ years of known reserves) that it will be of any benefit whatsoever to Scotland or her people?

We know from our recent history that when oil and gas were first discovered in the North Sea, Bernard Ingam, Personal Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, successfully drew up a plan to re-position the trajectory of the Scottish Border into the North Sea. This was directed much further north by north east and by doing so saw a significant area of sea bed re-allocated to England. At the same time he is also thought to have persuaded her, she who was Prime Minister at the time, to agree to the Shetland Island Council retaining 1p per barrel of oil landed at their storage facilities on the islands – a right which still exists to this day and one that, despite it sounding a small sum, over 40 years has vastly improved the facilities enjoyed there by the Islanders – good luck to them for it.

However his motivation and that of Mrs Thatcher was not driven by “altruism” to the Shetlanders.

This was “positioning”. The SNP were on the ascendancy and the ploy, and it was implemented in subsequent elections, was divisive. The proposition being that if Scotland ever voted for independence the UK government would encourage Shetlanders to stay within the Union thus robbing the Scottish Exchequer of the now vast oil revenue potential of the fields west of the Islands.

In effect this was and is another form of partition so liked by the British Empire, of which we now remain almost “last man standing”!

I am no lawyer, so I do not pretend to know what is the objective of the Judicial Review. It surely is within the rights of a democratically elected Government of Scotland to decide to ban a process which is potentially damaging to our natural environment.

Hopefully our Scottish Courts will uphold that right.

To also threaten to sue using Human Rights legislation is equally baffling!

Since when did a corporation acquire “human” rights?.

Surely these are rights available only to living and breathing homo sapiens?

That aside, the human rights we should be concerned about and, hopefully, our Scottish Courts will support us in, is the right to live in a clean environment. As I understand it , currently, the shale oil gas being imported to Grangemouth comes from relatively sparsely populated areas of North America. If Ineos wins a case to frack here in Scotland then that is a very different proposition.

The reserves here are in our most densely populated areas running right through the now abandoned coal seems across the entire Central Belt from Cockenzie to Lanarkshire.

One can only speculate about the damage that such irresponsible commercial activities could have on our country and the local population.

These are the real Human Rights being put at risk by this Court action.

A legal process has, however, commenced. Lord Pentland has issued his judgement.

This process could, depending on the initial findings, be protracted over several years, indeed I suspect that the “commercial strategy” is to see them go beyond Brexit in the certain knowledge that if the Scottish Courts finds against Ineos on either or both actions then an appeal will then be made to the Supreme Court which will in that timescale no longer be in Europe but in London.

Despite the much vaunted “independence” of the London Judiciary I think I could put money on them repealing the democratically elected Scottish Government’s ban on Fracking, by overturning any decision made by the Scottish Judiciary.

I hope I am wrong but I sense that “the unseen hand” is in all of this.

There is only one sure way out of this “mess in the making”- it is Scottish Independence.

Please, for ourselves and our children yet unborn, vote Yes next time.

Ian Stewart, Isle of Skye


Democracy – ‘a nice idea’


Asked for his views on democracy, Gerry  Adams, Sinn Fein President, said, ‘It’s a nice idea’.

There’s a delicious irony in the boast that Britain was the first modern democracy and that Westminster is the ‘mother of Parliaments’. I was reminded of this as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of (some) women gaining the right to vote. When it was built in 1870, the Palace of Westminster was designed as a men only establishment – so much for democracy. More than anything however, the suffragette movement reminded me that democracy is a journey rather than an event.

In his book ‘Democracy and its Crisis’, A.C.Grayling charts the history of democracy from its roots in pre-Christian Athens through to the present day. His thesis is that, while some European countries are fairly close to achieving democracy, it’s still a largely unfulfilled concept in most countries that claim to be democracies. He singles out both the UK and USA for particular criticism.

A recurrent theme in the book is the readiness of the electorate for democracy. In ancient Greece, Plato was very much against the idea of democracy, believing that the common man was unable to grasp the complexities of Government, the best form of which was via an Aristocracy. This word in its ancient usage meant a man (always a man), who was highly intelligent, wise and crucially, disinterested, so would be incorruptible, seeking no material gain from his power but simply wishing to do what was right for the populace. I tried to think who might fit such a tough CV and could only come up with Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Yoda and Gandalf.

Democracy continued to be a contentious issue after the ancient Greeks, through the Roman Empire and into medieval times. During the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the rebel priest John Ball caught the essence of the argument with the immortal question, ‘When Adam dug and Eve span, who then was the Gentleman?’, alluding to the fact that there was no aristocracy during the time of Adam and Eve, so the common man was presumably able to run his own affairs. Later, at the Putney Debates of 1647, when the Levellers met with Oliver Cromwell to press their case for the rights of the ‘common man’, they did so on the grounds that they had not fought to overthrow a King simply to be ruled by a new tyranny. Some of the Levellers were later jailed – so much for the free speech aspect of democracy!

The franchise was extended somewhat in 1832 with the Great Reform Act, when universal suffrage was declared, having been extended to property owning males over 21. However, the vast majority continued to be voiceless; in late 19th century Britain something like 85% of working men were manual labourers, none of whom had the vote and most were illiterate (compulsory public education only began in England in 1870). The ruling class were  wary of extending the franchise, as they felt that to give the vote to such an uneducated mass could lead to anarchy. Their fears were perhaps justified given the number of States that have introduced democratic institutions but have failed to deliver stable governments, for example Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and Bolivia, partly because the voters were politically and in some cases, educationally illiterate.

It would seem that a necessary requirement for the effective exercise of democracy then is an educated electorate, both generally and politically. This seems crucial in the 21st century as the scope and scale of many of the issues of Government become ever more complex- Brexit and Scottish independence for instance, both of which require a deeper and wider understanding of the issues than a General Election which might provoke an emotional response – ‘I voted for ‘X’ because  I’ve always voted ‘X”, or voting simply for the Party promising tax cuts.

This leads me to observe that in Scotland, despite what former Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, said about ‘Scots not being  genetically programmed to make political decisions’ we have the most politically literate electorate in the UK. Consider this; we have two Governments, one in Holyrood and the other in Westminster, which share responsibility for Scottish affairs and whose Executives are drawn from differing political Parties. Our elections are conducted using three different election methods; first past the post (FPTP) for Westminster elections, the d’Hondt proportional system for Holyrood elections and the Single Transferable Vote (STV) proportional representation system for Scottish Council elections. We also have in the SNP a strong third party to break up the Tory, Labour hegemony that exists in England. The 2014 Independence Referendum then focussed the attention of the electorate on what kind of country they wanted Scotland to be. Finally, we had the EU Referendum in 2016. Given the volume of political education undergone by the Scottish electorate since the 1997 devolution referendum as just outlined, it’s perhaps no surprise that Scotland, bucked the general trend and voted 62% in favour of remaining.  Since then, attitudes towards the EU seem to have hardened North and South of the Border. Recent opinion polls suggest only 45% support for remaining in the EU in England while 68% support remain in Scotland – a political chasm.

Grayling insists that the UK as presently constituted, meets very few of the criteria necessary for an effective democracy and is in effect an Elective Dictatorship. His big beef is with the first-past-the-post electoral system which provides an unfettered mandate to the Governing Party, invariably on a minority of the vote. Grayling also singles out the Whip system, which he says is frequently abused by bullying (e.g. threatening exposure of an MP’s domestic peccadilloes), threats of de-selection and/or loss of potential promotion opportunities as a consequence of defying the Whips. All these factors, Grayling says, leads to an impotent opposition which, because it is unable to influence legislation, creates a great deal of sound and fury to give the appearance that it is holding Government to account – all of which Grayling suggests is highly unsettling to the general public, whose impression tends to be that the Government is in constant turmoil. In an effective Government, where the Governing parties genuinely represent the majority of the electorate, things tend to be much quieter (boring even) as Government is allowed to get on with the business of Governing because they have a genuine mandate. I would exclude Holyrood from this tranquil nirvana as the British Nationalist politicians and pro-Union press do their utmost to stir up unrest against the SNP interloper in their cosy consensus.

Grayling’s other requirements for an effective democracy includes a written constitution, STV proportional representation voting system extended to 16 – 18 year olds, an elected second chamber which can overturn Bills and a Supreme Court which can strike down any Bill which fails to abide by the constitution.  More contentiously, Grayling asserts that voting should be compulsory, because a non-vote always favours the winner. Peter Bell made a similar point recently in iScot Magazine. Bell used a simple example of 100 voters and just 2 candidates. While 51 votes are required to win the election when everyone votes, if we assume a typical General Election turnout of around 60%, then to win only requires 31 votes, a much lower threshold and crucially, one which is only supported by a minority of the electorate, thus creating the potential for dissent.

Looking back 100 years, votes for women is a no-brainer; it’s inconceivable that women should be denied the vote. At the time, however, the suffragette movement was not not popular, even among women, who saw it as a cause of strife between them and their menfolk, rather than liberating (an example perhaps of a lack of political education). In short, most men and many women thought women should ‘know their place’, to not get ideas above their station. This caused me to compare the suffragettes with the quest for Scottish independence. Both are steps along the democratic road and like the suffragettes before it, Scottish independence appears to be supported by a minority of the electorate. So how do we change minds? Will it need an extreme gesture like that of Emily Davison, who died when she stepped in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, or will the Scottish electorate finally wake up to the democratic deficit that exists in Scotland, so clearly illustrated by a British Government that continues to ignore Scottish aspirations regarding the EU?  And what will our successors 100 years hence think, as they view an independent Scotland? I strongly suspect that, just as we do now with votes for women, they’ll scratch their heads, wonder what all the fuss was about and agree it was also a no-brainer.