NICOLA Sturgeon has suffered an embarrassing setback after MSPs supported a Scottish Labour call for an immediate and outright ban on fracking.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs combined to pass a motion demanding a ban during a Holyrood debate on the environment.

Later, ministers said they "recognised" the vote but insisted they would continue to consider the potential for unconventional gas extraction.

The Scottish Government, under pressure from grassroots SNP members, last year imposed a moratorium on fracking pending the conclusions of a series of scientific studies due to be completed next year.

Read more: SNP's Mhairi Black accused of spreading 'misleading nonsense' over fracking

Ministers have hardened their position against the controversial drilling technique since then but have stopped short of agreeing to an outright ban.

SNP MSPs abstained as Labour successfully amended a routine government motion extolling Scotland's "stunning natural environment".

The vote, which was welcomed by environmental campaigners, is not binding on the government.

However, if ministers are now to back fracking when the scientific evidence is presented next summer, they face the embarrassment of doing so against the will of the Scottish Parliament.

During the election campaign, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens all pledged to ban fracking on environmental grounds, arguing the exploitation of new fossil fuel reserves would wreck Scotland's efforts to tackle climate change.

Speaking after the vote, Labour's environment spokeswoman Claudia 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.

Mark Ruskell, the Green MSP, said: "Tonight's vote is a great result for communities across Scotland who remain at risk of fracking.

"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."

The decision was also welcomed by Friends of the Earth.

Read more: Labour MSP Claudia Beamish calls for outright ban on fracking in Scotland ahead of Holyrood debate​

Head of campaigns Mary Church said: "It is clear from today’s vote that there is a growing consensus that stopping climate change means we have to say no to new fossil fuels like fracked gas.

"We look forward to greater urgency from the Scottish Government in ending the uncertainty for communities faced with unconventional fossil fuel extraction across Scotland."


During the debate, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said he was "surprised and disappointed" by Labour's amendment.

He said later: "We are deeply sceptical about fracking and, through our moratorium, we have ensured that no fracking can take place in Scotland. "Our abstention in this parliamentary vote respects and is in line with that moratorium."

He added: "In stark contrast to the gung-ho approach of the Tories, we are being rightly cautious.

"We have set out a full research programme to be followed by a full consultation of people in Scotland, so that future decisions on fracking are informed by scientific evidence and the views of the people who live and work here.

At the weekend, it emerged that Ineos, the Grangemouth-based petrochemicals giant with licences to frack across central Scotland, had moved its fracking operations south of the border, where the first planning application for unconventional gas drilling has been approved in North Yorkshire.


The firm described the ongoing moratorium as "bad news for Scotland".

The Scots Tories environment spokesman Maurice Golden said fracking could generate £33billion for the UK economy.

He told MSPs: "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.

"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'."