Oil and Gas Licences

First Minister’s Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 June 2024.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I thank you, Presiding Officer, for the opportunity for each party to make some remarks about D day.

Eighty years ago today, British soldiers joined those from America, Canada and other nations to board planes, ships and landing craft to begin the liberation of Europe. The men who were parachuted into Normandy or who landed at Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha or Utah beaches on 6 June headed into danger and uncertainty. They were met with mines, barbed wire and the guns of the German defenders. A total of 4,414 of the men who were involved in operation Neptune alone would lose their lives, but their sacrifice, and the brave efforts of all those individuals on that historic day, played a key part in the downfall of Nazism and in ensuring freedom and democracy for western Europe.

On this day, the 80th anniversary, and as the veterans of that day become fewer and fewer and the event passes from memory to history, our need to remember their heroism becomes ever more important. Today, and always, we will remember them. [ Applause .]

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that granting new oil and gas licences for the North Sea is essential not only for our energy security but to protect tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I start by echoing Douglas Ross’s comments. Today is a day for reflection on the sacrifice and the bravery of all those who served during the second world war, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their lives for us in pursuit of a better world. The youthful faces that we have seen in the photographs in the television coverage this morning stay with us—they certainly reminded me of my loved ones.

Were it not for the courageous actions of those brave men and women, we would not enjoy the freedoms that we now take for granted, including the freedom to debate and disagree this very afternoon. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. As we mark the 80th anniversary of D day today, we will never forget those who have laid down their lives, and those who continue to do so, in the service of their country, and we will never take our freedoms for granted. [ Applause .]

We in the Scottish National Party are absolutely crystal clear in our support for a just transition for Scotland’s oil and gas sector that recognises the declining nature of the North Sea basin and is in line with our climate change commitments. The difference between my party and the Conservatives is that we will never abandon our workers, we will never leave a legacy of inequality and we will never destroy communities, as the Tories did in the previous transition.

Any further extraction must be consistent with our climate obligations, and we must approach licensing on a rigorously evidence-led case-by-case basis, with robust climate compatibility and energy security being key considerations.

Douglas Ross might not care very much for doing the hard work to understand the evidence for decisions, as he confessed earlier this week regarding Liz Truss’s budget, but we are evidence led and will ensure that our decisions on North Sea oil and gas are consistent with the evidence.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

The evidence is very clear. The SNP’s plans to be against any new oil and gas licences will result in tens of thousands of jobs being lost in the North Sea and the north-east. That is the evidence; that is very clear.

This week, the Deputy First Minister said that the SNP has “never said no to” new oil and gas licences. However, of course, it opposed the Rosebank field and Cambo. Let us hear what one of her Government colleagues has said. Màiri McAllan, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy, said clearly that the Scottish Government does

“not agree with the UK Government issuing new oil and gas licences.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2022; c 12.]

How can the SNP even pretend to support the oil and gas sector and the jobs that are crucial to it when its own energy secretary says that?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

It is very difficult to believe the Tories on oil and gas when we know that Douglas Ross’s party has been exploiting Scotland’s oil and gas to fill its budget holes for decades. What has Scotland got to show for it? It has austerity, Brexit and the cost of living crisis. We have never proposed a policy of no further North Sea licensing at all. We have said quite clearly that it has to be compatible with our climate change obligations and that any licensing process must be subject to a robust climate compatibility checkpoint.

Douglas Ross wants to talk about evidence. The scientific evidence is clear: there is an urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels globally if the Paris agreement climate goals are to be met. Our focus is on meeting our energy needs, reducing emissions and, ultimately, delivering affordable energy.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

The Deputy First Minister does not want to listen to the Conservatives on this, but I was simply quoting her Cabinet colleague. The SNP Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy says that the Scottish Government does not agree with the UK Government issuing new oil and gas licences. That is not me saying that; it is the SNP’s energy secretary.

If the Deputy First Minister is trying to distance herself from those comments, there are more. Humza Yousaf, who was the SNP leader until just last month, said:

“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do to grant 100 new ... licences.”

The SNP leader before that, Nicola Sturgeon, said:

“I do not think that we can continue to give the go-ahead to new oilfields.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2021; c 68.]

Several times this week, I asked John Swinney directly whether the SNP backed new oil and gas licences. He would not give a straight answer, so here is an opportunity for the Deputy First Minister. Does the Scottish Government agree that new oil and gas licences for the North Sea should be granted—yes or no?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

On the contrary, I have been very clear on our approach. Our approach is that we will continue to support the workers and the industry in line with our climate change obligations. The industry believes in that transition, but the facts speak for themselves in relation to what we are doing. Last month alone, we saw progress on two significant projects that will drive forward our energy transition and that underline our position as an energy powerhouse: Sumitomo’s groundbreaking £350 million high-voltage direct-current cable factory and the investment through Haventus in the redevelopment of Ardersier port. That is because this Government believes in a just transition—a transition that does not leave workers behind and does not turn off the taps overnight, but is very conscious of our climate change obligations.

This week, we have heard a lot of figures that have been cooked up by the Tories. The bottom line for us is that we are led by the evidence, and we will always back the north-east and Scottish workers.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

People might not have realised, listening to that answer, that I had simply asked the Deputy First Minister whether the SNP agrees with the granting of new oil and gas licences—yes or no. We got nothing—no answer whatsoever—on that specific question.

Let me be clear: the Scottish Conservatives support new oil and gas licences, because new developments will protect jobs in the north-east of Scotland. They will also support a just transition to net zero. They will keep bills down, they will prevent us from having to import costly oil from foreign countries and they will secure Scotland’s energy future. Its members are trying to pretend otherwise, but the SNP is against new oil and gas licences, regardless of the impact on the workers affected.

Speaking about evidence, I go back to the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, which said in a report that the position not to grant new oil and gas licences would put 100,000 jobs at risk. Why is the SNP ignoring it?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

Douglas Ross might find that the same report had some criticisms of the Conservatives, too.

Douglas Ross talks about supporting the north-east. I have been very clear about our position on new licences. If Douglas Ross wants to back the north-east, there are some big questions for him this very day—a day when he has betrayed a Conservative candidate in the north-east, whom the Conservatives trusted to be a minister in the United Kingdom Government, who is currently recovering from ill health, who was planning to stand for election and who was supported by local members. [ Interruption .]

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I am old enough to remember when Douglas Ross said that he was not going to stand again for Westminster because he wanted to focus on Holyrood in 2026.

Our position is clear: we will back the north-east, we will back workers and we intend to achieve our climate change aims.