Frack Off. We can see through the Parliamentary Games
I prefer the idea of minority government at Holyrood. In theory it should present the opportunity to find consensus on a variety of issues, enabling the parliament to pass laws which more closely reflect the views of the majority of the people. That’s why I was so keen to promote voting for smaller list parties. The more varied the opinion in parliament the better.
However, this week it seems that the dream of consensus politics is being stifled, mainly by Labour wasting parliamentary time instigating votes that have no chance of achieving anything for the pure goal of scoring cheap but transparent political points.
This week they proposed a motion to ban fracking, which is a laudable goal. The motion was passed but only about 25 percent of the parliament voted for it. The SNP abstained as they already have a policy which has stopped fracking in Scotland up till now. The motion Labour proposed was not binding so could never change anything. It was designed to make the SNP look bad by making them seem pro fracking.
However, the SNP are against fracking, and the reason they abstained from the vote is explained by Scottish Energy News in their rather balanced account of what happened:
The legal reason for the abstention is that to simply have accepted the Labour motion and carry – with a huge parliamentary majority – a vote in favour of a permanent ban on fracking would lay the Scottish Government open to legal appeal by way of judicial review (by energy exploration companies) for coming to a (political) conclusion before the (second, and ongoing) scientific review is completed in Spring 2017.
While I would like to see a complete ban on fracking, doing so now could lead to the same trouble caused by the law the SNP passed to instigate a minimum price of alcohol: a long, costly, distracting court case. So while the SNP moratorium on fracking is not ideal for those who wish to ban it an evidence based approach is the most pragmatic way to do things until Scotland has the full power to control its own energy policy.
If Labour and the Greens are serious about stopping fracking instead of playing games they need to make the case for why a complete ban is more practical than the current situation. That is how consensus politics should work. They need to show how we could legislate for a complete ban but also prevent a court case overturning the ban. If a robust case can be made then, as the SNP are in principle against fracking, they would be likely to agree.
Labour are also forcing a vote on a 50p tax rate. Again, a policy I would personally like to see implemented. However there is no chance of this happening as the SNP and the Tories were both against this in their Scottish Election manifestos. It is a game to force the SNP to vote the same way as the Tories, to show the SNP refusing to take more money from the well-off in a time of austerity, to make them look like hypocrites. And maybe they are hypocrites.
However, the SNP have argued that the reason they don’t want to raise the 50p rate is due to the potential of raising less tax overall due to capital flight. This may be nonsense but the SNP say this is backed by advice from civil servants.
Those who think that the SNP are wrong should commission some experts to look into the repercussions of a 50p tax rate and prove that the policy will lead to substantially more tax overall. They should then take that information to the SNP who say they are not ideologically against higher taxes for the better off. They will then be in a position to try to find consensus.
It is the wrong approach just to have an unwinnable vote purely for the purpose of scoring cheap points. These games grow distrust both between the parties, and between the parties and the public, creating a situation where passing legislation becomes more difficult.
I hope things improve in parliament as I really did believe the parties could work together to compromise and push through some strong policies but this isn’t a great start.
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