SNP members are preparing to take on Nicola Sturgeon’s government over fracking in a highly unusual public show of rebellion within the nationalist party.
In the most significant internal challenge to the controversial extraction practice, seven SNP activists, including a sitting councillor, have called on fellow members to back their bid for an outright ban.
Founders of SNP Members Against Unconventional Oil and Gas said they believed a majority in the party oppose fracking and would rally around their campaign. Vocal critics include Tommy Sheppard, the MP for Edinburgh East, and Joan McAlpine, the MSP and former aide to Alex Salmond.
The group has called itself SMAUG after the dragon from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which is found “living in the depths of the earth and is disturbed by the predatory dwarves going digging for the treasures of its domain”.
Campaigners say the group is “awakening to save us from the confused priorities that lead us to damage the very resources that we need to live — and protect the wee inhabitants of Middle Earth from the long blight of falling house prices”.
Iain Black, one of the group’s founders, said the Scottish government would not be able to meet its tough carbon reduction targets if fracking was allowed to go ahead. He said: “Scotland already has more oil and gas than it can burn, if we are going to halt damaging climate change. We can burn North Sea gas or we can burn gas from fracking but we can’t burn both.
“Why would we choose the one that pollutes our waterways, damages the earth under our homes, damages our health and damages our food and drinks industry?”
Holyrood has faced calls to clarify its policy on fracking from both sides of the debate ever since its moratorium was imposed in January.
Jim Ratcliffe, the chief executive of the petrochemical firm Ineos, has claimed that he has received private assurances that the SNP is “not against” fracking, suggesting that the moratorium could eventually be lifted.
Ministers were also criticised after it emerged that personal assurances were given to another firm, Cluff Natural Resources, over its proposals for an offshore operation in the Firth of Forth.
The firm has since postponed its plans, citing the debate over fracking among the reasons for its decision.
One member of the new group, Bill Frew, has previously accused Fergus Ewing, the energy minister, of having “sold out” communities where fracking could take place, and said: “SNP statements about a cautious evidence-based approach are simply cheap platitudes”.