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Rounding off this year’s series of party conferences ICE travelled north to Aberdeen for the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference.
May’s General Election heralded the arrival of an enlarged vanguard of SNP MPs to Westminster, swelling the party’s representation on the benches to 56 seats. The visible elation in the post-election period has not dissipated and, in spite of the challenging issues under discussion, the mood of the conference was buoyant.
The packed three-day programme ranged from the potential impacts of the Comprehensive Spending Review to the Syrian crisis, the EU Referendum to the Borders Railway.
In the home of the North Sea oil and gas industry energy issues would always feature high on the agenda. The drop in the price of oil and gas, ongoing discussions around on-shore gas resources, and the pending closure of Longannet power station, were explored both on-stage and in fringe events.
The mood of industry representatives was sombre, but far from hopeless. OGUK outlined plans for industry resource sharing, cooperation and efficiency, recognising that the old model of competition was no longer suitable in a mature basin. While industry and politicians are looking for tools to support the industry through trying times, questions from audiences highlighted the anxieties of the 37,500 people reliant upon its survival and long-term health.
The resolution on the moratorium on fracking made headlines with the conference voting not to accept amendments calling for an outright ban in Scotland. Scottish Government representatives highlighted the need for an evidence based approach with full consultation before a decision is made, but this did not stop members speaking against the party line. As Callum McCaig MP noted, both sides of the fracking debate believe that the scientific evidence will vindicate their position. This highlights the need for independent scientific and technical expertise to be at the forefront of discussions, improving public understanding of the techniques, the potential benefits and consequences.
Having met with representatives from a broad range of industries, civil servants and politicians, the ICE Policy team and ICE Scotland will be following up opportunities to develop positive working relationships. ICE Scotland will soon launch its State of the Nation Scotland Infrastructure 2015 report, and will talk to both established stakeholders and new contacts in advance of the 2016 Holyrood elections.