Scottish leaders clash over future of North Sea in first TV debate

Left to Right: Anas Sarwar, John Swinney, STV Political Editor Colin Mackay, Douglas Ross and Alex Cole-Hamilton

SCOTTISH political leaders have clashed over the future of the North Sea oil and gas industry in the first debate of the general election.

First Minister John Swinney warned a failure to deliver a “just transition” could create an “industrial wasteland” in the North-east of Scotland, but refused to confirm whether the the SNP’s proposed presumption against new licences would be dropped this summer.

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said his party would help create 69,000 new jobs, while for the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross said neither the SNP nor Labour would protect the industry.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Scottish and UK governments had failed to make progress on a fair transition away from fossil fuels.

In an exchange where he criticised the Labour position on oil and gas, Mr Swinney said there had to be a managed transition to net zero, likening a failure to do so to the policies of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

“What Mrs Thatcher did when she was in power was she created an industrial wasteland in central Scotland and we’re still picking up the pieces,” he said.

The first minister warned Mr Sarwar that his party would “do exactly the same to the North-east of Scotland”.

Pressed on whether he would support the granting of new licences for oil and gas developments in the North Sea, Mr Swinney refused to give either a yes or no answer.

Instead he said he wanted a “climate compatibility test on every single decision we take in relation to the oil and gas sector”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross interjected, saying: “That’s a no, John Swinney and the SNP are against new oil and gas licences.”

He also accused Labour of having “dangerous plans” for the industry.

The Scottish Tory leader, who is standing down as an MP at the election, referenced a report from the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce which warned the next UK government has 100 days to save 100,000 jobs in the North Sea.

It criticised SNP and Conservative energy policies but said Labour could make the situation “even worse” by extending the Tories’ windfall tax on oil and gas profits and removing some tax breaks for investment.

Mr Sarwar said his party’s energy strategy would create 69,000 jobs in Scotland, including 53,000 roles supported by GB Energy – a publicly-owned energy generation company he said would be headquartered in Scotland.

“This is good for Aberdeen, good for the North East, good for Scotland and good for the UK,” he said.

He accused both the SNP and Tory government of “broken promises” on energy.

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