SNP wavering over Moray Firth row is ‘because it’s a different oil’

John Finnie - challenged Moray's MSP in Holyrood
John Finnie – challenged Moray’s MSP in Holyrood

RICHARD LOCHHEAD HAS come under attack in the Scottish Parliament after he claimed his views on ship-to-ship oil transfers on the Moray Firth differed from previous proposals because it was a “different kind of oil”.

In his role as Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, the Moray MSP was pressed at general questions in the Scottish Parliament over his change of stance, having previously stated that there was no circumstance that should ever allow ship-to-ship transfers on Scottish waters.

Mr Lochhead remained tight-lipped over the plans to allow such transfers on the Moray Firth – according to campaigners, posing a danger to the local dolphin population as well as large tracts of the Moray coastline.

After responding to a question from Dave Thomson MSP on the Scottish Government’s position on the application from the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, Independent MSP John Finnie posed a supplementary question.

He asked why the Cabinet Secretary was such a vocal opponent to a ship-to-ship transfer on the Firth of Forth – which was eventually halted because of the danger to visiting Moray Firth dolphins to the area – and not now “in his own backyard”.

Mr Lochhead responded that the Moray Firth application was “unlike the situation with Forth Ports a few years ago, when a different type of oil was being proposed and different circumstances applied”.

Following the exchange Mr Finnie said: “Firstly, I am amazed to discover that Cabinet Secretary believes that the application is merely “extending an existing activity.”

“Whilst it’s true to say exchange between ships takes place within the relative safety of the harbour, what is proposed is vastly different and, if granted, would see the transfer of oil between ships on the open seas of the Moray Firth.

“Back in 2007 when it was proposed to carry out oil transfers in the Firth of Forth Richard Lochhead was an outspoken critic of the practice, indeed said “even a scintilla of environmental risk is unacceptable.

“I don’t believe Mr Lochhead’s unacceptable silence on the proposal which is in his own back yard is credibly explained by his astonishing assertion that “…a different type of oil was being proposed and different circumstances applied”.

“SNP Councillors in the Highlands are on both sides of this debate and the opportunity existed for the Scottish Government to clarify whether it supported these transfers, and repeatedly it has refused to do so – instead offering only mealy-mouthed platitudes and promises to keep a close eye on proceedings.

“It cannot be the case that what was deemed too risky for the Forth is acceptable for the Moray Firth, unless the Port Authority plans to switch to transferring Cod Liver oil.”