Woman’s prisons, oil and gas and the future of shale gas exploration were all featured in a week where the Scottish campaigns for the General Election ramped up.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has announced that the Scottish Government is to introduce a moratorium of granting consents for unconventional oil and gas developments in Scotland with immediate effect. The decision came quickly on the back of the UK Government voting against introducing such a moratorium covering the rest of the UK.
With growing concerns about the potential environmental and health impact of unconventional oil and gas exploration, the Scottish Government has decided to conduct a public consultation to gauge the public opinion on the sensitive issue. This consultation will be conducted alongside the Scottish Government commissioning a full public health impact assessment and further strengthening of planning guidance and environmental regulation.
Politically, Scottish Labour has welcomed the announcement. However, the Scottish Tories have accused the government of tacking a “backwards step” and damaging Scotland’s energy and manufacturing industries.
Sticking with energy, the Scottish Government’s new Energy Taskforce has met for the first time. The Scottish Government announced the creation of the Taskforce earlier this year as a direct response to the need to alleviate the impact of the current low oil price on Scotland’s North Sea industry. This has included setting up a dedicated phone line for anyone facing redundancy and an event is being planned in Aberdeen to provide advice and further training for those facing redundancy.
Sturgeon: “I’ll lead negotiations”
During a briefing for journalists at Westminster, the First Minister confirmed that she would personally lead any SNP negotiating team in the event of another hung parliament come May. The party has already ruled out any chance of supporting a future minority Tory Government but is open to the idea of a confidence and supply agreement with a possible future Labour Government. However, ‘red lines’ for any agreement would likely include a review of Trident, further devolution of tax powers and protection of the welfare system in Scotland.
During the briefing she also called for a “double lock” in the event of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the UK. This would mean that an overall majority in the UK to leave would also need to be supported by overall majorities in each of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Amidst the backdrop of the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls becoming the latest senior Labour figure to rule out the possibility of a Labour/SNP deal in the event of a hung parliament, Ed Miliband travelled to Glasgow this week to campaign alongside Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. During the visit, Miliband committed to introducing a “home rule bill for Scotland” within the first 100 days of a Labour government and to immediately seek to devolve control over the work programme to the Scottish Parliament.
Super Prison axed
New Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has announced that a controversial women’s ‘Super Prison’ in Greenock has been shelved. The £75 million, 300 capacity prison was intended to replace Cornton Vale Prison in Stirling, which is Scotland only women’s prison and is scheduled for closure in 2018. Instead the Scottish Government will progress with a series of smaller regional units.
Critics of the proposed ‘Super Prison’ had argued that the proposals ran contrary to the Scottish Government’s own advice on the treatment of women’s offenders, which called for the need to invest in therapeutic services at a local level, with a role for smaller specialist facilities for those who pose a significant public risk.