Oil Leak 35 – why did the Environment Minister not know the Scottish Government were a statutory consultee?

Back in March 2016 a motion was presented to the SNP conference by the Nairnshire, Culloden and District Branch, it read:

Ship-to-Ship Transfers:

Conference welcomes the statement from the Scottish Government on 9 February 2016, “Protecting our Seas”.  Conference calls for decisions on ship-to-ship oil transfers to be devolved to the Scottish Government. Conference expresses its strong opposition to the present application for a licence to permit the transfer of up to 8,640,000 tonnes of oil between tankers moored at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth in the Moray Firth, which has been put forward by the Cromarty Port Authority. Conference further calls for greater transparency in the mechanisms for the notification of proposed developments in the environmentally sensitive areas.”

This motion was approved meaning it became party policy. Yes, contrary to popular belief it is SNP policy to express “strong opposition to the present application for a licence….” Forgive me for being slightly puzzled, that the SNP forms the Scottish Government, yet all the said Government seem to be able to do right now is keep to the party line which says its nothing to do with us, all Westminster’s fault. Well you know what, that is not a good enough answer from our elected representatives – if you are an MSP then expect to have your feet held firmly in the fire on this one.

The “Protecting Our Seas” news release which was referenced in the SNP conference motion. It was published 9 Feb 2016, and in it there is a plea from Richard Lochhead:

“With an application for ship to ship oil transfer in the Cromarty Firth under consideration, Mr Lochhead has written to Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport. In the letter he asks again for the devolution of powers to ensure decisions can be taken by the Scottish Government in line with European obligations to protect the marine environment. He also insists that should this again be refused, the Scottish Government is consulted prior to any decisions being made.”

The document was published on the 9th of February – ironically the day after the consultation that Marine Scotland (read Scottish Government) had been invited to participate in had ended (8th Feb).  According to Robert Goodwill in written answer to Ian Blackford MP:

Officials from Marine Scotland were sent the application details and information by email on 9 December 2015. A reminder about the deadline for comments on this application was sent to the same officials by email on 3 February, five days before the end of the extended consultation period.

A Marine Scotland official confirmed to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on 11 February that they had seen the information and had no intention of submitting a response.

Mr Lochead’s lack of knowledge of the invitation to submit is quite remarkable – was it hidden from him in his role as Environment Secretary at the time or did he just not know that the Scottish Government were already being consulted, either that or someone in Westminster is not telling the truth? Normally our first thought might be to consider that Westminster are lying, however in this case, we don’t believe so. The evidence for FOI is there that Marine Scotland had in fact been sent the application and were intending responding but didn’t. Then at the same time the Environment minister is calling for the Scottish Government to be consulted. Sounds like there’s a bit of communication issue in that particular part of government,