John Ashton: Our weapon against fracking is the love of our land

The struggle against dirty energy is the same as the struggle against the Enclosures and the Clearances. The difference is: this one we’re going to win

"The Kelpies are going to get Algy Cluff and Jim Ratcliffe if they are not careful. They are the spirits of our land and they will smite our enemies." (Pic: Photography by Michel/Flickr)

“The Kelpies are going to get Algy Cluff and Jim Ratcliffe if they are not careful. They are the spirits of our land and they will smite our enemies.” (Pic: Photography by Michel/Flickr)

By John Ashton

Believe it or not, and I know it’s hard to believe, in Westminster, in Whitehall, in the City of London, there are people who say – there really are – they say: we’ve just got to drill.

They say: the United Kingdom needs fracking, it needs underground coal gasification, it needs coal bed methane.

But then they say: not everybody in the UK needs to have dirty energy on their doorstep. They say: here in the leafy, crowded south of England, our hills are too green, our views are too beautiful, our lives are too precious, to be contaminated by the dirty energy that we nevertheless need in the UK.

The place to have dirty energy is in the North, they say. The North is desolate anyway, they say. In the North, they do not love where they live as much as we do. In the North, their hills are not so green. Their views are not so beautiful. Their lives are not so precious. That’s what they say.

So they say: the North is the place. So let’s frack the life out of the Central Belt of Scotland, and out of Lancashire, and out of North Yorkshire, and across the North of England, and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

They say: let’s get our coal bed methane from places like Letham Moss that I visited on Friday. Let’s burn the coal under the Forth, and under the Solway, and under the Dee, and under the North Sea from Tynemouth down to Hartlepool.

I say to them: shame. 

On Friday I also visited Grangemouth, and I’m going to take the news from Grangemouth and Letham Moss back to London. The news from Grangemouth and Letham Moss and the Central Belt of Scotland and the Forth and everywhere else that’s under threat, the news is this.

Don’t tell us, don’t tell us that our land is not beautiful. Our Forth is beautiful beyond compare, it really is. Our hills, our hills to the North and our hills to the South, our Ochils and our Pentlands, they are beautiful beyond compare.

And the Kelpies, have you seen the Kelpies in Falkirk? You don’t put up statues like that if you don’t love your land. The Kelpies are going to get Algy Cluff and Jim Ratcliffe if they are not careful. They are the spirits of our land and they will smite our enemies.

Our people are beautiful beyond compare. And their lives are precious. And they do love their land. That’s the news I’m going to take back to London.

Our war, our struggle is not a new struggle.

This struggle is as old as history itself. Because, when you don’t learn the lessons of history, you end up in the same struggle again and again.

And in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was a struggle up and down our country, when landowners closed off the land, they took the common land from the people, and they said: let us close it off, and we will farm it with the most modern and efficient methods of technology and economics. And by doing that we will get more wealth off the land and we will all be wealthier.

Back then it was the Enclosures. But It’s just the same old argument. You know what they used to say? In Lancashire they used to say this about the Enclosures:

The law locks up the man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.

And I’m afraid the greater villains are still around today. They closed off the land, they stole the land from the people, they farmed it, they made themselves more wealthy, but they didn’t make the  people wealthy.

And as you say Sir, in the Highlands of Scotland we had the Clearances.

They promised, the landlords promised better lives to their people just as they were throwing them out of their crofts, and burning their crofts, and kicking them out, kicking them down to Glasgow and kicking them onto ships to Canada, kicking them anywhere other than the land where they had lived for centuries.

The landowners said: we’ll make your lives better, just as they were ruining their lives. And they enriched themselves from the wool of the Cheviot sheep, and they forgot about the people, their own people, people who had trusted them, people who loved the land they lived on, people they were now kicking off their land.

This struggle against dirty energy, it’s the same as the struggle against the Enclosures and the struggle against the Clearances. The difference is: this one we’re going to win. We’re going to win this struggle.

Because we have the most powerful weapon of all, and we saw it on the bridge just now.

Our weapon, our strength in this struggle, is love. Our weapon is our love of our land and our love of each other.

I don’t think Algy Cluff loves the people.

Algy Cluff says this, in his report, his Chairman and Chief Executive’s statement to shareholders of Cluff Natural Resources of 25 August 2015, and I quote (as they say in Parliament): “Planning for approvals for energy-related projects should be vested in the control of the central government”.

What that means is: central government should force dirty energy down the throats of the people without the people having a say: no local planning process.

Algy Cluff doesn’t love the people. He doesn’t want democracy, he wants to hollow out our democracy that our ancestors fought for, for centuries: the blood of our ancestors is what we stand on now in our democracy.

And the point is, money is part of our lives, of course it’s part of our lives. But if you start to worship money, money makes you blind to love. And Algy Cluff I think is money-blind.

Has anybody here heard of a man called Jim Ratcliffe? One or two of you I can see.

Jim Ratcliffe didn’t like it when the government said he had to pay his VAT bill, just like you and I all pay our VAT. He didn’t like that at all. So he said I’m going off to live on my yacht in the Caribbean, and my house in Switzerland.

Jim Ratcliffe is coming back, and he wants to frack you.

Jim Ratcliffe says:  if you let me frack you, I’ll give you lots of money. Does Jim Ratcliffe sound like a man who loves the people? Or does Jim Ratcliffe sound like a man who is money-blind?

Algy Cluff says he knows what’s best for Scotland. Jim Ratcliffe says he knows what’s best for Scotland, and Jim Ratcliffe even wants to give you carrots to do his bidding.

Do we want Jim Ratcliffe’s carrots? Do we want those carrots? Carrots are for donkeys. I think that’s a bit unkind to donkeys actually.

Algy Cluff can keep his money and his underground coal gasification, and we’ll keep our Forth and we’ll keep our Scotland.

Jim Ratcliffe can keep his carrots and his money and his coal bed methane and his fracking, and we’ll keep our Central Belt and we’ll keep our Scotland. We’ll keep our Scotland.

Friends, there’s another Scotland, and another England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

It’s a better Scotland and England and Wales and Northern Ireland. Because it’s a place we will build together.

And we will open our hearts to our love of our land and our love of each other as we build it and we’ll be richer at the end of that than we would ever be with Algy Cluff’s money and Jim Ratcliffe’s money. We’ll be richer than we would ever be.

Burns is your Scottish poet. He’s your poet, but his poetry, his wonderful poetry, belongs to all of us.

Burns wrote his poetry with his love of his people and his love of his land. It’s in every line of his poetry, it was burning in his heart.

And Burns wrote:

The golden age, we’ll then revive, each man will be a brother
In harmony we all shall live and share the earth together,
In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall love each fellow creature,
And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature.

John Ashton was the UK’s Special Representative for Climate Change between 2006 – 2012. This is an excerpt of a speech he gave at a public rally and joining of hands across the Forth Bridge against unconventional gas extraction in the Forth Estuary and Forth Valley, on 11 October 2015. Read the full version here.

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