The Scottish Government has said it will continue to explore the potential for fracking in Scotland despite a vote in parliament in favour of an outright ban.
Labour hijacked an environment debate in Holyrood in an attempt to expose SNP divisions on fracking, forcing an early vote on the gas extraction technology in one of the first tests of the reduced SNP minority Government.
The SNP abstained on all amendments calling for a ban, clearing the way for Labour’s wrecking amendment and effectively making an outright ban the official will of the parliament.
Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the view of parliament “will not deflect Government” from its current policy – a moratorium on fracking until it has canvassed expert and public opinion.
He said: “I am somewhat surprised and disappointed that Labour thought it appropriate to ignore all of the substance of today’s debate and motion, which had the potential to discuss issues of great importance to the environment.
“In doing so, they also potentially reduced this debate on the environment to a bit of a sideshow.
“To be clear, the SNP will abstain on the amendments that have sought to make fracking front and centre on this debate for this reason, above all else: unlike all of the other parties in this chamber our position, we believe, on fracking is clear, unequivocal, coherent and consistent.”
He added: “Let me reiterate this Government’s position, there will be no fracking in Scotland unless it can be proven beyond doubt that it will not harm the environment, communities or public health.”
The Tories earlier called on the SNP to ignore the anti-fracking “left wing cabal” of Labour, the Greens and Liberal Democrats and give its unequivocal support for fracking.
Environment spokesman Maurice Golden said: “Fracking will generate up to £33 billion and create up to 64,000 jobs for the UK, according to Ernst and Young.
“For the three amigos, the left wing cabal of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, I say to you that you are out of step with the scientific evidence and with what consumers and businesses want and need.
“I think you need to stop playing politics and start standing up for Scottish jobs. How you can look the unemployed oil and gas workers in the eye while refusing them a new jobs is beyond me.
“For the SNP, you need to make your mind up. You’re more indecisive than the Lib Dems.
“You need to listen to your own advice, and I quote from your own Scottish Government report: ’The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such resources’.”
Labour environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said: “Today we will see once and for all which side of the fracking debate the SNP members are really on.
“If they vote against our amendment then they are effectively saying to people that they want to keep the door open to the possibility of fracking and only a vote on an outright ban will show beyond all doubt that the parliament rejects fracking in Scotland.
“So to the SNP I say this, you have a choice. It’s a choice between working with left centre parties like Labour to ban fracking, or working with the Tories to push through fracking in Scotland.”
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “Fracking is an unwelcome diversion from the potential that we have in renewables in this country.”
The Greens and Liberal Democrats sided with Labour to back an outright ban by 32 votes, effectively overwriting the Scottish Government motion promoting Scotland’s “stunning natural environment” after the SNP abstained on the Labour amendment.
The SNP’s 61 voting MSPs then abstained on the amended motion, and it was subsequently passed with 32 anti-fracking MSPs outvoting 30 pro-fracking Conservatives.
Following the vote, Labour and the Greens urged the Scottish Government to respect the will of the parliament.
Ms Beamish said: “Today the will of the Scottish Parliament has been made clear – there should be an outright ban on fracking.
“The SNP may have abstained on the vote, but they cannot ignore the clear position of Scotland’s parliament.
“The SNP Government must now clarify whether or not they will respect the will of parliament and introduce an outright ban on fracking. It would be outrageous for this important vote to be ignored.
Green climate spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “The SNP’s decision to abstain is a cause of regret and I hope they reflect on the result.
“We stand ready to work with them to comply with the wishes of parliament and help deliver this ban. Holyrood has clearly agreed that fracking and other forms of unconventional gas extraction are incompatible with Scotland’s low-carbon ambitions.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the vote.
Head of campaigns Mary Church said: “It’s great that the Scottish Parliament has voted to ban fracking and sent this clear message to the Government to get on and do it.
“The many SNP MSPs who stood on an anti-fracking platform in the Holyrood election are clearly feeling the pressure on this important issue.”