John Swinney considering ditching Nicola Sturgeon policy opposing new oil and gas licenses

Oil and gas jobs will be a general election issue
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

John Swinney is considering dumping Nicola Sturgeon’s policy of opposing new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea in a bid to shore up his party's faltering vote.

The First Minister said an “exploration” of the policy is underway amid fears by senior figures it is costing the SNP support in the north east of Scotland.

Sturgeon, who struck the deal to bring the Greens into Government, announced a ‘presumption’ against new developments to help meet climate change targets.

The position was largely symbolic as new licenses are reserved to Westminster, but it sent a powerful signal to the energy industry.

Humza Yousaf also endorsed the stance when he succeeded Sturgeon but new FM Swinney appears set for a u-turn.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Swinney said: “I want the Scottish Government to work closely and carefully with the oil and gas sector to ensure its sustainability.

“We need the oil and gas sector to contribute to the transition to net zero, so it has to be strong enough and robust enough to do that. ‘In addition to that, I want to make sure that the sector is able to contribute to the objectives of energy security that we’ve set out in our policy programme.

“It’s an exploration of our position, that’s how I would describe it. The Scottish Government wants to work with the oil and gas sector to ensure its fiscal sustainability.”

Senior SNP figures such as Westminster leader Stephen Flynn are believed to support a rethink.

The future of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea is shaping up to be a key general election in Scotland.

Keir Starmer’s Labour will honour existing contracts, but not back new licenses, a position Flynn claims will cost tens of thousands of job.

Labour would also increase the windfall tax of energy giant profits while the SNP is against a rise.

Swinney told journalists at the weekend a Labour Government would “lead to the devastation of employment” in the industry in the north-east.

He said: “I think the Labour Party has got a real problem in the north-east of Scotland because their policy programme will lead to the devastation of employment in the north-east of Scotland through the proposals that they are bringing forward, which will have a significant and damaging impact on employment within the oil and gas sector.

“And what I want to make sure of is that people understand the dangers of Labour’s plans and the damage that could be done to employment.

“And, you know, we’ve got a commitment to manage to transition to net zero and that’s what the SNP will work with the oil and gas sector to deliver because we’ll need the oil and gas sector to contribute to our economy, but we will also ensure that there is the support that that sector can give, to enable the transition to renewables to be undertaken”.

He added: “There’s a lot of independent commentary that indicates that the plans of the Labour Party and particularly their tax grab that is being perpetuated by the Conservative and Labour parties is having a real damaging effect on investment in the oil and gas sector, which we need to sustain the sector, but we also need to ensure that that sector can play a part in the transition to net zero which is fundamental to the approach that we’ve got to take as a country”.

Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, said: “John Swinney is resorting to increasingly desperate and dishonest attacks on Labour’s plans because the SNP has no record to stand on and no ideas of its own.

“The SNP has missed its green jobs targets, slashed its green jobs funding, given up on climate leadership and turned its back on oil and gas workers – but Labour will make Scotland a clean energy superpower.”

Green co-leader Lorna Slater said: “We are in the last days of a Tory government that has shown a total contempt for our environment. Meanwhile Labour is refusing to revoke a single oil licence and the SNP is trying to face both ways. It is only the Scottish Greens who are committed to taking the bold action that is needed.”

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