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The politics of Scottish Government policy on unconventional oil and gas

Faculty of Arts and Humanities

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Prof P Cairney No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

About This PhD Project
The Scottish Government’s core stated purpose is ‘To focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth’. Hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) for shale oil and gas is an important and high profile test: the extraction of fossil fuel energy may boost economic growth but cause unintended environmental consequences. It is a controversial issue, with pro-fracking energy companies competing with environmental groups to set the agenda. Indeed, the issue seems to currently be at an impasse. The Government has placed a moratorium on extraction until it gathers more evidence on the risks and rewards, gauges public opinion, and explores the potential to negotiate a settlement between key actors such as business and environmental groups. Yet, at this stage of policy development, there is little evidence of public engagement between these groups, far less negotiation and compromise.

Our project identifies the potential for engagement and compromise by establishing the beliefs of actors and their willingness to talk with their competitors. We draw on well-established comparative research – using the ‘Advocacy Coalition Framework’ (ACF) - to survey and interview actors. We establish their beliefs on issues such as economic and energy policies, and track the extent to which they share information with their allies and competitors. We compare the results with relevant countries to generate a wider sense of the debate in Scotland (is it relatively polarised or consensual?) and lessons for policy development. We focus on the idea of a ‘social license’: the need for private companies to engage with local communities to generate understanding of their plans, rather than relying on governments to mediate on their behalf.

To aid systematic comparison, we extend well-established methods:
• A survey of actors, developed already to establish the beliefs and strategies of UK and Swiss groups. This allows us to reinforce a strong research network developed with Drs Karin Ingold and Manuel Fischer at EAWAG (The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) in the University of Berne, as part of a wider network of scholars comparing policy in the US and Europe.
• Qualitative interviews with actors to further probe their beliefs and strategies.
• Discourse analysis of the fracking debate, drawing on media, social media, and government sources of information to show how actors engage.
• Academic-practitioner workshops, to bring together actors from interest groups, business, government, and the University, to generate new insights based on preliminary academic research and explore the potential for compromise.

The project will be coordinated by Cairney and Stephan in the Division of History and Politics, and is of considerable interest to the University’s new Centre for Sustainable Practice and Living. The project allows us to provide a sustained, tangible and evidenced contribution to societal issues, include policymakers, practitioner and the public in the research process, and help deliver research-based solutions to a major societal challenge.

Why Stirling?
Researchers at Stirling conduct high quality research that ranges from the strategic to the applied and that makes a vital contribution to the economic, social and cultural life of Scotland and beyond.

The University’s performance in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) was outstanding, with Stirling enhancing its position as one of the top research-led universities in the UK. Stirling has moved up to 6th place in Scotland and 45th in the UK. Our research expertise covers a breadth of subjects and disciplines in natural, social and health sciences, the arts and humanities and in business and management.

Support for postgraduate researchers
Research students at Stirling are supported by a team of expert supervisors who will guide and advise you on your academic and professional development through your studies. PhD student training at University of Stirling is delivered both at a School (subject specific training) and University (generic and transferable skills training) level, the latter being largely provided by Stirling Graduate School (SGS). The programme of generic skills training maps to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and includes seminars and workshops on statistics, career planning, manuscript presentation, dealing with the media, presentation skills, the viva, compiling bibliographies, assessment methods, tutorial organisation, teaching skills, thesis writing and troubleshooting, sources of research grants and applications, cv production and job interviews and applications.

For more information about the projects available for studentships starting in October 2016 please visit

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of Politics.

Apply online for the PhD in Politics and select the start date of 1 October 2016.

NOTE: The first step of the application process asks you to name a supervisor and to upload a project proposal. Please do not do either - when you get to this step please contact [Email Address Removed] tell them which studentship you are applying for (‘The politics of Scottish Government policy on unconventional oil and gas’) and the email address you used to apply. The team will ensure you are exempt from this step and you will then be able to continue with your application.

Informal inquiries can be made to Prof Paul Cairney with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter.

Funding Notes

This studentship fully funded by the University of Stirling and will cover the cost of home/EU fees, provide an annual stipend at RCUK rates (£14,296 for 2016/17), and £750 towards research training. The studentship provides funding for 3 years.

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