Energy leaders grill MSPs on future North Sea strategy


A packed Chester Hotel of more than 300 people joined Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce and Holyrood Sources podcast for a live energy debate.

Joining Calum MacDonald, Geoff Aberdein and Andy Maciver on stage were the SNP’s Minister for Energy, Gillian Martin, Scottish Conservatives Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Douglas Lumsden, and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Sarah Boyack.

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A series of issues were debated – some more hotly than others – as a room full of North-east energy experts listened closely to see which party is on the right path to net zero.

We’ve picked out some of the key points of the night.

The SNP’s Presumption against oil and gas

Following opening statements made by the trio of politicians, host Calum quizzed the SNP minister on her party’s presumption against oil and gas.

“That’s the wording that’s in the draft energy strategy. I think we’ve become very hung-up on those two words at the expense of actually having a nuanced conversation about what that mean,” she said.

“Every licence application is a presumption against. You have to have conditions met in order to get a licence.

“A ‘presumption against’, I don’t like using it so much and I don’t like hearing it all the time. Not because it’s politically uncomfortable for me, but I feel we’ve almost hung our hat on it too much.”

Pushed by Calum, Ms Martin continued: “It’s not a presumption against oil and gas, it’s a presumption against further exploration of oil and gas.

“It’s not a carte blanche situation as we’ve heard from others, that there won’t be any exploration, it will be dependent on the situation at the time, energy security-needs, in particular.”

What is GB Energy?

Labour’s Sarah Boyack was next to be put under the spotlight as Geoff Aberdein promised her “headlines” and “national news” if she promised the state-owned energy company, GB Energy, would be headquartered in the Granite City.

“I’m going to have to disappoint you Geoff, I cannot make that commitment.

“We’re getting lobbied all the time, and that’s a good thing. The commitment is to have it headquartered here in Scotland, other places are also lobbying us, sometimes, on a strictly regular basis.”

Later on in the recording, Ms Martin questioned Ms Boyack on what GB Energy was going to be. “What is it? What is it going to do?”, asked the SNP politician.

“It’s about bringing down people’s bills,” responded Ms Boyack.

Questioned further by Ms Martin on whether it’ll impact people’s bills, Ms Boyack answered: “It’s going to be bringing the industry together and actually taking a lead.

“It’s not going to nationalise the whole electricity (sector), but look at some of the experiences in Europe. The European companies that come here to Scotland, make good profits and send it home.

“It’s about not having all of our energy split up into different packages, it’s about joining it up and making sure you’ve got clear leadership and focussing on bringing people’s bills down.

“Getting those supply chains sorted and having an approach that brings governments together, and we’re not just talking UK and Scottish Government – local government is critical here as well, in terms of delivery on the ground and making things happen, getting sights available.”

Responding, Ms Martin said: “I’m an energy minister and even I find that confusing,” while Mr Lumsden added: “Sounds like a return to the 70s to me.”

Who would you trust to get rid of EPL quicker?

“I’m not going to stand-up for the UK Government here, I’m completely against the EPL (energy profits levy),” said Mr Lumsden, a Scottish Conservative MSP.

“I can understand why it was taken in at the time. Energy bills were going through the roof and there was money required to offset some of those huge increases.

“I was listening to another podcast yesterday, Douglas Ross was on the Chamber podcast (ChamberTalk), and he was asked about this.

“I know he’s making representations to the treasury to try and have this lifted and we’d obviously like to see this go as soon as possible.

“But who would you trust to actually get rid of the EPL quicker?” questioned Mr Lumsden.

Host Calum swiftly reminded the Tory shadow minister that it was his party who brought it in, much to the amusement of the room.

“But what was Labour’s stance on it? They wanted to keep it going harder and for longer,” Mr Lumsden replied.

Ms Boyack responded: “We supported the principal of why it was brought in and because of the crisis the country faced and it’s not been resolved yet, has it?

“Even this year there are people’s bills that are just going to be unpayable.”

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