Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Dalzell Historical Industrial Transaction, Economy (North-east Scotland), Ending the Not Proven Verdict, Motion Without Notice, Protecting Rural Bus Services


Economy (North-east Scotland)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-02552, in the name of Liam Kerr, on backing the north-east economy.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Last week, in response to someone called Alex Salmond saying that the Scottish National Party Government had

“been dragged into student politics”

that would sacrifice and jeopardise

“the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Scots”,

an SNP spokeswoman said that we needed to

“get real on the climate emergency”.

They were both right. “Get real” means acknowledging that 78 per cent of Scotland’s total energy needs and 91 per cent of its heating are met from oil and gas. That is fuel and gas, which heats 24 million United Kingdom homes and goes towards making medicines, cosmetics, plastics, cleaning products, clothes and contact lenses. As Gary Smith of the GMB said, gas is

“a feedstock for the chemical industry ... our food supply ... our NHS”.

I ask Patrick Harvie, who is always keen to remind us that he rides a bike—sometimes even the right way up one-way streets—what he thinks the tyres are made from or the oil on the chain.

“Get real” means acknowledging that, in all scenarios given by the Climate Change Committee—all net zero compatible, incidentally—oil and gas account for around half of demand until 2050. Scotland has to get that from somewhere. Much of it already comes from abroad. It comes from Russia—that famous upholder of regulatory and environmental standards—to which we paid nearly £4 billion for oil and gas last year. It comes from Qatar, which sold to us £1 billion-worth of liquefied natural gas that has, according to the Oil and Gas Authority, more than double the carbon footprint of UK gas. It also comes from Norway which, to ensure that it can still sell us around £11 billion-worth of oil and gas, just licensed extraction in 136 blocks in the Barents Sea and exploration in the Arctic.

Conversely, local supply has advantages such as enhancing security of supply; protecting 100,000 jobs—around 65,000 of them in the North East Scotland region—while undertaking a fair and managed transition; avoiding inflicting ever-higher imported gas prices on the British consumer and plunging ever more of them into fuel poverty; and ensuring that we do not offshore our environmental responsibilities to the global south.

“Get real” means not lodging motions that refer to just transition funds about which, just last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy could tell me no detail so that I have had to write to her. It means not repeatedly saying “match that” when anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the industry knows that the UK Government’s £16 billion North Sea transition deal is happening now and aims to create 40,000 high-quality direct and indirect jobs. It also means—instead of boasting that offshore wind energy would create 28,000 posts by 2020 and then delivering fewer than 2,000 or boasting that 21,000 renewable energy jobs have been created but quietly forgetting that 130,000 were promised—fronting up, supporting the sector and working with it to deliver an actual transition.

“Get real” means that, when Siccar Point Energy postpones the Cambo project and immediately cuts 39 roles in Aberdeen, potentially forfeiting 1,000 jobs, a party of government does not respond by saying how “great” that is. It does not mean Ross Greer stating to Shell,

“Can’t wait till we seize your assets and prosecute your executives”,

or Maggie Chapman comparing the oil and gas industry, which is one of the most advanced industries in the world and key to our transition, to the stone age. It does not mean claiming that supporting oil and gas makes one “hard right”, or celebrating as tens of thousands face a Christmas fearing for their jobs, their livelihoods and their futures. Arrogance and hubris stalk the Greens like the jangling chains of Marley’s ghost but, just like the ghost, the people of Scotland will see right through them.

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

The member can quote people out of context all he likes, but will he not acknowledge as a matter of fact that political parties of the left, centre and centre right, and even lifelong Conservatives such as John Gummer, have already got real and recognised that everlasting expansion of oil and gas extraction is not compatible with a serious response on the climate emergency?

Liam Kerr

I am disappointed that the minister has completely failed to get my point. Nobody is arguing for unlimited oil and gas—the minister has clearly failed to listen, just as he failed to listen to the oil and gas industry and to most of the environmental industry when they were telling him something different.

However, the responsibility does not fall on the SNP’s subsidiary alone, for the latest developments were set off by Nicola Sturgeon’s abject failure to back our oil and gas industry. When it suited her, it was Scotland’s oil and the foundation for her future country.

Members may remember that, right at the start of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—Michael Matheson was quoted as saying that an independent Scotland would continue drilling for oil and gas. Yet, as soon as the price fell and Nicola Sturgeon realised that supporting the industry might impact on her future job prospects, she threw her cabinet secretary under the bus and U-turned with deeply damaging comments about Scotland’s oil and gas. Just last week, when she was pressed by Douglas Ross, she failed to condemn the shameful, appalling comments of her ministerial colleague Patrick Harvie.

What a contrast that is with the leadership that has been shown in Norway. As Deirdre Michie of Oil & Gas UK said:

“Look at the statements of support from their Prime Minister. That gives people and companies confidence that that’s an area where you can go and invest, where you want to do your oil and gas operations, where the people and the skills will then underpin the energy transition.”

The last point is key—what will drive net zero is oil and gas companies that have the skills, the money and the business imperative to innovate, invent and transition. For example, BP is using its workforce to partner with Aberdeen City Council in the hydrogen hub; Equinor and Cadent are—as was reported today—announcing plans for a hydrogen town; and SGN is envisaging a pathway to 100 per cent hydrogen for Scotland’s gas networks, on which it has worked with oil and gas stalwart the Wood Group.

The conclusion is clear: we must “get real” about continuing demand, and how irresponsible and short-sighted it would be to satisfy that demand through imports. We must “get real” about recognising that, unless the Scottish Government starts to support our oil and gas industry and genuinely steps up to a fair and managed transition, new production will not go ahead, we will import from abroad and up to 100,000 workers in the oil and gas industry and associated industries will be thrown under the bus in favour of virtue signalling.

I urge Parliament to vote for the Conservative motion today; the SNP to take its spokeswoman’s advice to “get real”; Parliament to back our oil and gas industry; and all of us to consign the student politics of the Greens back to the stone age where they belong.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that prematurely ending the oil and gas industry would decimate the economy of the north east of Scotland, and believes that it is irresponsible and counter to Scotland’s net zero ambitions to undermine the future of the industry and the jobs of tens of thousands of north east workers that rely on it.


The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

Our oil and gas industry supports around 70,000 jobs in Scotland, and the sector continues to play an important role, not just in our economy but in delivering energy security. Crucially, even as we make the transition away from fossil fuels, as we must do, the sector will continue to have a vital role in ensuring Scotland’s energy security.

Of course, we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in line with our climate obligations, in a way that is fair and just. It is a journey on which Scotland has already embarked and which it needs to accelerate. We have made it clear that renewables and low-carbon jobs cannot replace oil and gas jobs immediately, which is why we are committed to ending our contribution to climate change quickly, in a way that is just and leaves no one behind.

A transition that puts 70,000 workers into unemployment or increases reliance on imports would not be a just one. That is why the Scottish Government is investing in a just transition, not just through our £75 million energy transition fund but through our continued support for projects such as Acorn and the Scottish Cluster. Those projects are critical to meeting our emissions reduction targets, as well as supporting the transition in the North Sea oil and gas sector.

The UK Government’s decision not to grant the Scottish Cluster full track 1 status was wrong, because it puts a just transition at risk and might have a negative impact on our environment and economy. Yet again, I urge the UK Government to accelerate the Scottish Cluster to full track 1 status without delay.

Liam Kerr

I do not entirely disagree with a lot of what has been said so far, but the cabinet secretary will acknowledge that the selection or not of Acorn was made on entirely objective criteria that all parties knew about.

Michael Matheson

Liam Kerr is aware that the Scottish Cluster came through that assessment process very well. The decision not to progress with the project was made by the UK Government despite the fact that it had a good rating in the assessment. That is why—in the term that was used to me—the sector representatives were “flabbergasted” by the UK Government’s decision on that issue.

Over the course of the next four years, the emerging energy technologies fund, which we have set up, will invest £180 million in the development of projects that are based on hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage—CCUS—industries, to support the development of negative emissions technologies, which is an important role that they can play.

Next year, we will also commit the first £20 million of our £500 million just transition fund, to support Moray and the north-east of Scotland to become a centre of excellence for the transition to a net zero economy. We have repeatedly asked the UK Government to match that investment over the next 10 years to ensure that we deliver a just transition in the north-east.

Scotland also has some of the best offshore wind resources anywhere in Europe. Crown Estate Scotland’s current leasing round—the ScotWind process—is an opportunity for us to get first-mover advantage on floating wind projects anywhere in the world. The Scottish Government is determined to build on that strength, maximise our country’s offshore potential, reduce emissions and create good, green jobs. In 2020, Scotland generated some 940MW from offshore wind alone, and the recent announcement of a new manufacturing facility in Nigg is a great example of that. A location that is long associated with the oil and gas industry will now be home to the UK’s largest factory for steel towers for offshore wind turbines. That will create some 400 new jobs and more than 1,000 jobs across the supply chain. That is the type of transition that we want to happen across Scotland, including in the north-east.

The North Sea will continue to provide Scotland with an important level of domestic energy and, crucially, the infrastructure, skills and expertise of the sector can be a huge asset in helping us to achieve net zero. We believe that that will help Scotland to become a world leader in emerging technologies, such as CCUS, offshore wind and hydrogen.

The pact that was recently agreed in Glasgow at COP26 reaffirmed our commitment to achieving the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C. That means that it cannot be business as usual. We need to take bold and courageous decisions in order to do things differently.

In the spring, we will also deliver our first just transition plan as part of a refreshed energy strategy, and that will set out how the economic and social impacts of the transition will be managed. Work to engage and collaborate with those who stand to be most impacted by the transition will begin early in the new year.

I believe that, by working in partnership with our oil and gas sector and the wider energy sector in Scotland, we can ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for this and future generations—in the north-east of Scotland and beyond.

I move amendment S6M-02552.3, to leave out from “prematurely” to end and insert:

“the global climate emergency and the aims set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact require all countries to achieve the fastest possible Just Transition for the oil and gas sector; reaffirms that, for such a transition to be just, it must support the 70,000 workers whose employment depends on the sector in Scotland; understands that the growing domestic and global renewable industry provides a major employment opportunity for Scotland; welcomes the Scottish Budget for 2022-23, which will see almost £2 billion invested in tackling the climate emergency, including the first £20 million of the £500 million Just Transition Fund for the north east and Moray, and calls on the UK Government to match this investment in the industries and jobs of the future.”

Before I call the next speaker, I remind all members who wish to speak in the debate to ensure that they have pressed their request-to-speak button.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

If we are to prevent the climate emergency from becoming a climate catastrophe, we are on borrowed time. However, we are also on borrowed time if we are to stop that climate crisis becoming a jobs crisis.

As we have heard, the oil and gas sector supports around 70,000 jobs in Scotland, most of which are in the north-east. There are 28,000 such jobs in Aberdeen alone and 10,000 in Aberdeenshire. The sector supports high-wage jobs across the whole country, including more than 1,000 in my South Scotland region. The industry is worth £19 billion a year in gross value added, which is 12 per cent of the Scottish economy. The industry’s impact is greatest in the north-east—it generates £14.6 billion in Aberdeen and more than £4 billion in neighbouring Aberdeenshire. In addition, the sector generates £106 million across the Highlands, Moray, Orkney and Shetland, and £39 million in South Scotland.

Oil and gas also continue to account for three quarters of the UK’s energy needs, with a quarter going on producing everyday goods, from medicines to the raw materials for wind turbine blade manufacturing. Even by 2050, half of our demand will still be met by oil and gas. Therefore, turning off the taps prematurely would have a devastating impact on the north-east economy, as well as in all our communities.

Winding up production too rapidly would not suppress demand for oil and gas; it would simply result in greater levels of imports, sometimes from regions with less stringent environmental and employment regulations. Gas imports are already at record levels and account for more than half of UK gas supplies. Do we really want to raise imports of oils from Russia above the already significant value of £3.2 billion?

If we are looking at importing more oil and gas, does the member agree that having projects such as Cambo come on stream would be a good thing, in order to limit the amount that we have to import?

Colin Smyth

Mr Lumsden will know that it is Shell that has pulled out of Cambo because it concluded that the economic case was not strong enough. He will also be aware that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that was commissioned by the UK Government concluded that we cannot continue to pursue maximum economic recovery of fossil fuels.

It is crucial that we ensure that we have a just transition. I know that Mr Lumsden and his party do not understand what that is, but they should ask any mining community in my constituency about a just transition for energy workers.

Will the member give way?

Colin Smyth

I will try to make some progress.

If we are to meet our climate targets, which are demanding—a 75 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2045—and also continue to secure jobs, we cannot pursue the maximum economic recovery of fossil fuels. As I mentioned, that view is shared by the International Energy Agency. Therefore, we need to have a sensible debate and a balanced discussion about how we can protect jobs and energy security, as well as ensure that we transition to net zero. Crucially, we must make that transition in a just way, so that no worker is left behind, as many were recently by both the UK and Scottish Governments when oil prices fell, leading to thousands of job losses. That means that we need to up our game in Scotland to properly translate green energy growth into high-quality, secure, well-paid jobs, which is something that, so far, the Government has failed to do.

Workers and trade unions are sick and tired of the constant references, which we see again in the Government’s complacent amendment to the motion, promising jam tomorrow and more talk about opportunities for jobs in the renewables sector. They have heard it all before—we all remember Alex Salmond promising those opportunities, saying that we would be the “Saudi Arabia of renewables”. A decade on from the SNP pledge in its low-carbon economy strategy of annual growth of 4 per cent a year to 130,000 green jobs by 2020, the number of people who are directly employed in the low-carbon and renewables economy is just 21,400, which is the lowest since 2014.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will take an intervention if I can get the time back.

I can associate myself with an awful lot of the member’s comments, but does he support his colleague Monica Lennon’s motion, which in effect turns off the taps prematurely—something that he rightly fears?

Colin Smyth

Nobody on the Labour benches is proposing to turn off the taps prematurely. However, we need to start learning the lessons of the past, including the lessons from the closure of our mines and, most recently, the lessons from a decade of missed opportunities in securing offshore wind contracts for Scottish manufacturing.

We need a bold industrial strategy that lays out how domestic manufacturing capacity must evolve to ensure that the growth in domestic renewable energy production begins to translate into new jobs in Scotland. That means that both Governments, instead of bickering, need to work together. For example, we should not be signing contracts for offshore wind farms without a proper plan for supply chain manufacturing and ambitious conditions in relation to job creation in Scotland—something that the UK Government missed recently when it came to its announcement on funding for renewable energy.

We cannot repeat the past failures to recognise the manufacturing benefits of renewables by now failing to recognise the emerging job opportunities from the tens of billions of pounds of decommissioning work that will be needed in the North Sea in the decades ahead.

Scotland’s fabrication and decommissioning industries should be supported by requiring a significant proportion of local procurement from oil companies operating in the UK continental shelf region. That is what a proper just transition is, supported by a just transition commission with statutory backing. The transition also needs to be a jobs-first, worker-led transition, with a relentless focus on securing meaningful, well-paid, unionised jobs that are good for people and good for our planet. That means a partnership approach—

Mr Smyth, I have given you the time back for the intervention, so please bring your remarks to a close now.

Colin Smyth

No problem at all.

That means a partnership approach between Government and those workers who are most affected.

I am happy to move Labour’s amendment in my name, but I must also make clear that we cannot allow workers and communities to be left on the unemployment scrap heap as we transition to a modern, low-carbon economy. Our amendment recognises that such a transition can be just only when workers have a say on their futures, on their livelihoods and their—

Mr Smyth, you really are quite over your time.

Colin Smyth

I move amendment S6M-02552.2, to insert at end:

“; further believes that the Scottish Government must significantly step up its efforts to support the retention and creation of energy jobs in Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to set out a clear industrial plan, in consultation with trade unions and workers, particularly from the oil and gas sector, to secure a Just Transition for workers across Scotland.”

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sorry to interrupt the debate, but it is my understanding that quite a lot of members across all the political parties are having great difficulty in accessing the debate online because BlueJeans seems to have frozen. I know that that was a problem during question time, too. Could the matter be investigated, please?

I understand that the point that Liz Smith draws to our attention is being urgently investigated. Members are being advised to watch proceedings on Scottish Parliament television.

On a further point of order, Presiding Officer. Would it be possible to have a short suspension until the issue is sorted out? There are members who would like to participate in the debate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you for your points of order, Ms Smith. I do not know the extent of the technical problem, but I think that the website is down. I propose that we suspend for 10 minutes. If, at that time, the issue has not been resolved, I am afraid that we will have to move on. I hope that that is a sensible way forward.

15:43 Meeting suspended.  

15:53 On resuming—  

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before we resume the debate, I will provide further clarification. I have been advised that there is a problem with the worldwide web. Therefore, we need—along with much of the rest of the world, I guess—to investigate what is happening, why it is happening and when it can be fixed. I imagine that that will have implications for what happens later in the afternoon. Please rest assured that those questions are being actively looked into by the chief executive’s office. Further information will be provided when it is available, so that members know exactly what is happening in respect of there being a deferral of decision time or whatever else is the best way forward.

In the meantime, we will continue with the debate. I call Liam McArthur.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank you, Presiding Officer, and Liz Smith for trying to maximise the online viewing ratings for my speech. I will try not to disappoint.

There is clearly a sense in which this is groundhog day: we seem to have been having this debate, in some guise, weekly. I certainly do not begrudge that, given the urgency of the climate emergency and the importance of ensuring a just transition. In the amendment that I lodged, I sought to reinforce—as Colin Smyth set out in his speech—the need to secure the future of workers and communities and to deliver tens of thousands of good green jobs.

I thank Liam Kerr for his motion, which does not seem unreasonable on the face of it, although I am not entirely clear how far short of maximum extraction it would leave us. We need to accept that some of the resource will have to be left in the ground.

Even so, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the current contribution of the oil and gas sector. There is no doubt that it has been economically significant, both in terms of gross value added and in terms of jobs. That is the case right across the country—perhaps more significantly in the north-east but, I argue, also in the Highlands and Islands to no smaller extent, proportionally. That adds further weight to the argument for specific attention being paid to a just transition in that region.

As Liam Kerr acknowledged, all the scenarios from the UK Climate Change Committee anticipate oil and gas accounting for up to or around 50 per cent of total cumulative energy demand up to 2050. That might reflect a marked reduction from where we are now, but it remains significant. It also underlines the need to bear down on demand and to avoid simply displacing domestic production with imports of more environmentally impactful products and more problematic security of supply.

People who work in the oil and gas sector recognise the need for an energy transition. Recent polling appears to suggest that there is a real appetite among those who work in the sector to see the transition taking place. The important thing for Government and its agencies is to make it as easy as possible.

There is an obvious read across to the needs of the renewable energy sector, but it would be overly simplistic just to say that that is where the transition will go. There will be many other sectors that can take advantage of the skills of people from the oil and gas sector. It is incumbent on Government and agencies to do more to raise awareness of options and to make the transfer as smooth as possible, including through any retraining or skills development that are needed.

We will happily support the amendment in Colin Smyth’s name; I am slightly more reluctant about Michael Matheson’s amendment. For the record, Scottish Liberal Democrats certainly do not, at this stage, welcome the Scottish budget, and not just because it clobbers local authorities across the country. It also falls short of helping us to meet our climate objectives. Questions have already been asked about what the £500 million energy transition fund is actually made up of and whether it will turn out to be more smoke and mirrors.

It would be helpful, in that context, if the minister or the cabinet secretary could set out the year 1 objectives for the £20 million that has been referred to. How many workers will actually benefit, and what are the predicted investments in future years? In the context of the UK Climate Change Committee’s recent criticism of the Scottish Government’s lack of detail on plans to achieve net zero, those and other questions become ever more crucial and central.

As I have said in the context of previous debates, the creation of new green jobs will be key in a just transition. We have had the promises before, but we cannot now afford to leave people and communities behind. Achieving that transition will require that plans be both radical and credible. We need to bring people with us, and that will rest heavily on credibility, including the credibility of people in the oil and gas sector. Change is unavoidable, but only with detailed plans and proper resourcing can there be any hope of achieving the transition in a managed way.


Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

There are now two distinct visions of the North Sea’s future. On one hand, we have the potential for a just transition, ushering in a new age of prosperity for Scotland. Decommissioning will play a central role, with up to £50 billion being invested in the North Sea by 2040. The potential exists to support thousands of jobs, either directly or through supply chains—jobs that oil and gas workers are well placed to fill, given their highly transferable skill sets.

However, we need a circular economy in order to properly tap that potential. For example, why scrap a pipeline when it is worth five times as much in the construction sector? Together, improved reuse, better remanufacturing and higher-value recycling could increase the value of assets—including steel, valves, vessels and tanks—by as much as 25 per cent. Alongside a digital tracking system for new or replacement assets, we can ensure through quick response—QR—codes, for example, that we extract as much of that value as possible.

We should also capitalise on the huge steel smelting potential. Typically, 94 per cent of oil and gas platforms’ steel is smelted, so having an electric arc furnace in Scotland makes perfect sense in terms of helping to recycle the estimated 5.5 million tonnes of steel that are available on the UK continental shelf. That would create skilled jobs, reduce carbon impacts and reduce constraint payments. Once again, I urge the Government to explore that opportunity.

All that work requires close co-operation with the oil and gas sector. It makes sense that we co-operate, because even the UK CCC forecasts that oil and gas will continue to provide up to 50 per cent of our energy demand to 2050.

The sensible approach is to ensure that the industry makes the minimum possible impact on the environment, which is why the North Sea transition deal focuses on reducing production emissions and will get a boost from UK plans to quadruple offshore wind generation by making electrification of oil and gas platforms easier by tying them to offshore generation.

Set against our sensible and sustainable vision is the extreme position that the Greens are pushing. They want North Sea oil and gas to be shut down as quickly as possible. One of their ministers called for the shutdown to start next year. Meanwhile, their other minister openly celebrates Scottish oil and gas jobs being put at risk. It is the stuff of student politics—treating the oil and gas sector as an enemy and its workers as an afterthought.

The SNP seems to be happy to go along with that approach and shows no sign of putting in the work that is needed. Years late, there is still no circular economy bill; no industrial road map—which is critical for carbon capture and storage—and no word on the Scottish offshore floating wind industry getting the support that it needs in order that it can compete. The Scottish Government set an arbitrary limit of 100MW for Scottish projects and expects them to compete with the 300MW projects that will exist throughout the rest of the UK.

The failures are mounting even higher. Emissions, recycling and green jobs targets have not been met, and the Scottish Government cannot even deliver a 1990s deposit return scheme after working on it for a decade.

Let us remember that 100,000 jobs depend on the oil and gas sector. Those workers need certainty for the future. I know which of our two visions they trust to deliver that.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

This morning, I held a joint meeting with Scottish Renewables and the Scottish Cluster. At that meeting, we considered the opportunities for both sectors regarding the supply chain—encouragement of local supply chain development, manufacturing opportunities, developing a skilled workforce and working with local skills agencies, colleges and universities. I know from discussions with OGUK that it is keen to engage with both the Scottish Cluster and the renewables sector on that.

The cost of retrofitting properties in Scotland is estimated to be about £33 billion, according to a study by the University of Glasgow. The 2 per cent population share of my East Lothian constituency would mean £750 million in that sector alone.

Last week, in the Scottish Government net zero debate, I touched on a meeting with Scottish Renewables and SNP colleagues at which we heard about opportunities for the renewables sector to deliver an additional 17,000 jobs with an additional £33 billion of GVA by 2030. In that same debate, I mentioned a recent report by Robert Gordon University, which stated that 90 per cent of oil and gas industry jobs

“have medium to high skills transferability”

into green and net zero industries.

Will the member give way?

Paul McLennan

I have only four minutes and I want to get through my speech because I have points to make.

There are opportunities for all sectors to work together.

The Scottish Cluster also recently published the key findings of a report on the employment impact of the Scottish Cluster in Scotland. Storegga Geotechnologies, which was the lead developer of the Acorn project on behalf of the Scottish Cluster, commissioned the report. The Scottish Cluster found that it could support an average of 15,100 jobs between 2022 and 2050, comprising 6,200 direct jobs and 8,900 supply chain jobs. Total Scottish Cluster jobs were expected to peak at 20,600 in 2031. If the UK Government had accepted the project as a track 1 project, it would have started to support jobs as early as 2022.

Will the member give way?

Paul McLennan

No. I am sorry. I do not have time—I have only four minutes.

The initial project build phase would have supported 15,000 jobs straight away. Who is letting the north-east down now?

Will the member give way?

Will the member give way?

Paul McLennan

No. I am sorry.

That would have been bad enough, but the Conservatives’ shambolic handling of the Peterhead carbon capture and storage project in 2015 just adds insult to injury.

Will the member take an intervention?

No. Only this week—

Excuse me. The member has indicated quite a few times that he is not giving way. As you know, it is up to members to decide whether they will take interventions. Please resume, Mr McLennan.

Paul McLennan

The truth is having an impact here, Presiding Officer.

Only this week, Professor Stuart Haszeldine, who is the carbon capture and storage expert at the University of Edinburgh, said that there is “no advantage” in the project’s selection as a reserved bidder.

Will the member give way on that point?

Paul McLennan

No. He also said that carbon capture projects are “fundamental” to Scotland meeting its net zero targets by 2045. He stated:

“It just means you have to go to a lot of meetings but there’s very little chance of one of the other bidders being declared void so you’re effectively being asked to run on the spot with very little or no funding.”

I ask again, who is letting the north-east down now?

The SNP is.

Paul McLennan

I am sorry. I am not taking any interventions.

The Scottish Government is investing heavily in the area. The £62 million energy transition fund will support our energy sector and help the north-east to make significant progress on energy transition as we move toward a net zero society by 2045. The £500 million just transition fund will protect existing jobs and create new jobs in the north-east and across Scotland by opening up opportunities through energy transition and harnessing private sector funding.

The Scottish Government has already announced £26 million for the energy transition zone, £16.5 million funding for the net zero technology transition programme, £6.5 million for a global underwater hub, and £4.65 million for the Aberdeen hydrogen hub.

This is not an either/or discussion. We can manage a just transition by working with all sectors, but the Tories need to move on from their narrative. The Scottish Government is wholly committed to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045, and to ensuring that we do it in a just way that leaves no one behind.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the north-east of Scotland and is determined to secure a just transition for the region and its workers. The Scottish Government will not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated. Indeed, far from deserting the sector, the Scottish Government is already investing in its net zero transformation.


Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

There is no issue that is of greater importance to the people I represent than the future of the economy of the north-east and the livelihoods that depend upon it. We are talking about jobs, wages and our taxes.

The deeply worrying income receipts that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy presented last week can be traced partly to the low oil price and the decline of North Sea exploration. We are therefore also talking about public finances and our public services.

Scottish Labour believes that the only viable transition is a jobs-first transition in which opportunity remains for our communities. We believe that the skills and infrastructure in the north-east will be vital to any realistic transition to a low-carbon economy, but we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge. If there is a good example of where such a fundamental change has been achieved without significant pain since the industrial revolution, I have still to see it.

When I hear colleagues in other parties talking about a jobs-rich future, I have to say that I am sceptical, and that is on the basis of experience. Alex Salmond and SNP ministers were the royal family of the Saudi Arabia of hyperbole rather than anything to do with renewable energy. The debate that we have had so far is really about that clash between warm and grandiose words and the reality on the ground.

Colin Smyth highlighted the huge promises that were made a decade ago. The challenge for the Government in today’s debate and more generally is in convincing the public that it has a sound vision that can be pursued, and that it is not just making grand promises. After 14 years, we are still here: the climate emergency is worsening by the day and all that time has been wasted on grand words and little work.

We are now being asked to believe that the Greens—the coalition partners who cannot produce or run a bottle return scheme—are going to make the difference in terms of making the transition work. Frankly, that stretches credibility even further.

If Scotland is to transition successfully to a low-carbon economy, we must have a clear industrial plan that must be built with the involvement of experts, investors, trade unions and workers—especially workers from the oil and gas sector.

In my position as a member for North East Scotland, I regularly meet businesses that are keen to assist and to create jobs and make profits in the new industries. Floating offshore wind offers real opportunities for the north-east, but for reasons that I find genuinely difficult to understand, the Scottish Government is putting Scotland at a serious disadvantage in the evolution of an offshore wind supply chain by limiting innovation or stepping stone projects in the North Sea to 100MW, despite having been told specifically by the industry that projects at that level will be unfinanceable. The contrast—and the competition—is with the situation in the English and Welsh waters of the Celtic Sea, where innovation projects of up to 300MW can be proposed. Therefore, I ask ministers for an assurance that they will look at the innovation and targeted oil and gas decarbonisation plan and think again about the proposed limit. Unless the 100MW cap for innovation, as well as oil and gas-linked projects, is raised to 300MW, Scotland will struggle to compete with activity elsewhere in the UK.

Michael Matheson

The member makes an important point about INTOG; we are actively considering the issue at the moment. However, he will be aware that the cap is to help to generate innovation and to drive new technology in the sector. The danger of raising the cap to a much higher level is that we will not drive innovation and development of new technology. That is part of the thinking, as we seek to strike the right balance in the sector.

Michael Marra

I certainly understand the cabinet secretary’s intent as regards the scale of projects and his view of the need for a cap, but if financing of projects of up to 100MW is unrealistic, the kind of innovation that he hopes to bring about will not happen. Therefore, he must engage. I hope that once we have the revised INTOG guidelines—I believe that the process is under way—they will reflect the reality of what is required to make such projects happen.

For far too long, we have had rhetoric and grand promises. If we do not develop stepping stone projects to build the supply chain in advance of ScotWind, we will find ourselves in the same old cycle of work going overseas. The decision on whether to raise the INTOG innovation cap is not a matter for Westminster; it rests with the Scottish Government alone. I hope that the raising of that cap is a practical step that the Government can take on the back of today’s debate.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Here we are again, debating a groundhog day motion on oil and gas from the Tories. It seems that they are having trouble keeping up with the changing world and the changing nature of the debate.

For Mr Kerr’s sake, let us rewind a bit and go back to what the world was saying all those months ago in the run-up to COP26. The United Nations secretary general said that countries should

“end all new fossil fuel exploration and production and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.”

I say to Mr Kerr that that is about getting real.

The International Energy Agency said:

“If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now—from this year.”

That is about getting real.

Lord Deben, who is chair of the UK Climate Change Committee, told Mr Kerr in this very Parliament that

“the justification for any new oil and gas exploration or production has to be very strong indeed, and I cannot say that I have seen that so far.”—[Official Report, Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, 31 August 2021; c 20.]

That is also about getting real.

Will the member take an intervention?

Mark Ruskell

I will in a minute.

In September, in response to the recent gas price crisis, the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, said that the way forward was

“to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

That is also about getting real.

Will Mr Ruskell give way?

Will Mark Ruskell take an intervention?

If there is time in hand, I will give way to Mr Carson.

Mark Ruskell talks about getting real. Does he welcome the fact that the UK might have to import oil and gas from abroad, with a larger footprint, to ensure that we have a just transition?

Mark Ruskell

That is precisely why the Scottish Government is now assessing what our domestic energy requirements are and how those requirements relate to the fields that we have in the North Sea, where we have 6 billion barrels of oil and gas, some of which could meet our domestic energy needs.

I will take Mr Kerr to November, COP26 and the Glasgow agreement. In the text of that agreement, there was a welcome recognition of the need for a just transition and of the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. However, the failure of the agreement to commit to a global phase-out of coal was largely due to there being no matching commitment from richer countries to phase out our oil and gas.

It is clear what the world has to do to keep 1.5°C alive. The only responsible way forward globally is a managed transition and phase-out of oil and gas over time, rather than a sudden and deferred collapse in the future. Colin Smyth is right to remind the Tories of their unjust transition for coal mining communities in the 1980s, which left so many generations on the scrap heap.

A managed transition is the only way that we can ensure that oil and gas workers are not left behind. It is disappointing to hear the industry continue to make the case for the licensing of new reserves. Mr Kerr will have heard Oil & Gas UK speak yesterday at the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee about how it wants to upscale from 6 billion barrels to 18 billion barrels in the North Sea in the years ahead, and how maximum economic recovery is somehow consistent with both a just transition and the goal of 1.5°C. It is no wonder that public polling shows a distrust in the industry to lead its own transition.

We need strategic leadership from Governments to protect the climate and workers. We need to work within our planetary limits. That should not be a barrier to innovation and the growth of business opportunities, because it is the very catalyst that we need for change and to create new markets, crowd in investment and deliver long-term stable and fair jobs for the future. That is the debate that we will be having in the chamber, but it looks as though the Tories are not interested in having it.


Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

In the north-east, which is the region that I represent, the offshore oil and gas sector is worth more than £18 billion to the local economy. It supports 65,600 jobs. It might feel like groundhog day to Mr Ruskell, but a fair and managed transition to net zero is critical to those communities and their economic and emotional wellbeing.

The SNP-Green coalition spends a lot of time talking about a just transition, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it simply does not understand what that means. We need a responsible transition to net zero that takes existing energy demand into account, protects our energy security and safeguards the jobs of workers in carbon-intensive industries.

Last week, Patrick Harvie suggested that it was extreme to keep expanding oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. He seems to have succumbed to the fallacy that cutting off domestic supply means that demand for fossil fuels will disappear—and I will not take an intervention on that point. It will not disappear; instead, we will rely increasingly on imports from countries such as Russia and Qatar, losing thousands of jobs for no environmental gain. That is an odd position for the so-called Greens, when outsourcing oil and gas production overseas ignores the huge carbon footprint of doing so. Mr Ruskell might smile at me, but it is not funny.

LNG imports from abroad are far more carbon intensive than domestic energy production—more than twice as much. Let us be clear: in all UK Climate Change Committee scenarios, oil and gas accounts for between 47 per cent and 54 per cent of total cumulative energy demand between 2020 and 2050. All those scenarios are net zero compatible.

Let us not forget that the SNP made a second oil boom a central pillar of its economic policies for independence just a few years ago. “It’s Scotland’s oil”, they said. That is their narrative. Now, they have cost us the Cambo project and the 1,000 jobs that went with it. Astonishingly, the First Minister told MSPs that the new oil field should not be given the “green light”, even before the Scottish Government has completed a programme of work and analysis to understand Scotland’s energy requirements. How is that credible?

This is not a just transition. For a couple of headlines, the SNP and the Greens are recklessly pushing the oil and gas industry over a cliff edge, risking taking countless communities in the north-east with it. It is shameful.

Labour would be wise to listen to the GMB general secretary’s scathing criticism of the “cheerleaders for Cambo’s shutdown”. He said that they

“aren’t just throwing energy workers under the bus, but also our security of supply for the gas we will still need on the road to 2050.”

That was the GMB.

Will the member take an intervention?

No, I am in my final few minutes.

Do you know that I am a member of the GMB?

Less chat from a sedentary position, please.

Tess White

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

We all recognise that we must take action on climate change. The energy sector is not just alive to the climate crisis; it is at the forefront of the low-carbon energy transition. Now, more than ever, we need the skills, expertise and innovation of the sector to help us to achieve net zero, yet the SNP-Green coalition, complicit with Labour, is determined to target it.

Meanwhile, thousands of hard-working people in the energy sector are getting on with the diversification to renewables that we need for net zero. It is high time that the SNP backed them—and the north-east—instead of its cosy coalition partners.


Jim Fairlie (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)

I had written a speech for the debate that was forward looking, focused and positive—and then I read the Tory motion. “Just transition” is a phrase that gets bandied about a lot these days. It is like the newest buzz word that proves that someone is not cool if they do not use it. It started off as a phrase with genuine meaning and depth, but it has now become a political football, being kicked around all over the place. I suppose that, in politics, it was ever thus.

I am old enough to remember—as are most of the people sitting in this chamber—another time when Scotland was promised a new dawn. There were opportunities in every corner of Britain for those who were prepared to grab them. Then Ravenscraig tower came down, the ships stopped being built, the pits were closed and we stopped making cars. The political choices of Thatcher’s years laid waste to huge swathes of communities right across the industrial heartlands of Scotland, all with promises of jam tomorrow.

Those communities are still waiting for the jam that will never be delivered by the Tories. In fact, the Tories’ current Westminster leader actually joked about Thatcher being ahead of her time on reaching net zero by closing the coal mines. She might well have been, but her motivation had nothing to do with climate change. It was just another Tory Prime Minister who cared not a jot for the people of Scotland. Those hard-working communities were utterly decimated and still live with the aftermath of poverty, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and three generations of people who were left to rot.

The Tory motion talks about defending jobs and protecting the industry, but it does not ring true and hypocrisy is utterly dripping from every word. In fact, hypocrisy is something that there is plenty of with the Tories here. There is hypocrisy in wanting to suck out every last drop of oil that is left in Scotland’s seas, which simply does not chime with the global reality of our need to stop burning fossil fuels, let alone the UK Government’s own target of reaching net zero by 2050.

If the Tories’ motivation for wanting to drain every last dollar of oil from the North Sea was really to protect the fabulous workforce and use the revenue for the direct benefit of the people of Scotland, I could have some sympathy with the motion, but it is not. It is about bleeding our natural resources dry and siphoning off the money to be swallowed up by Westminster’s vanity projects, while at the same time completely bypassing the democratically elected Parliament right here, in Scotland.

Had an oil fund been established, as happened in Norway, for the direct use of this Scottish Government—oh boy, we could be doing with such a fund now, because, let us face it, the Norwegian fund is now up to $1.5 trillion—again, I could possibly have sympathy with the motion. Alas, there is nothing. Instead, Westminster will not even talk to the Scottish Government about devolved borrowing powers, so that we can make the decisions about how we fund what this Government needs to manage the devastation of Covid, let alone reduce our carbon emissions while retaining a world-class workforce in meaningful, well-paid, long-term jobs.

What have we got to show for the vast wealth that has been taken from our seas? We have a fantastic workforce in the north-east, but that had to be, because the oil was off our coasts. We have an infrastructure that can see us into the next stage of developing opportunities to harness energy from nature. Again, that had to be, because that infrastructure was needed to get access to our resources.

However, the most advanced carbon capture project in the UK right now does not necessarily have to be in the north-east, so—guess what?—it is not.

Will the member give way?

Jim Fairlie

Sit down.

The Acorn project was rejected by the UK Government in favour of far less advanced projects in England, to buy up red-wall votes that it gained in the most recent election.

So much for the Tory motion and its supposed commitment to the folk of the north-east. Acorn has been buried, and that project can grow to its full potential only when Scotland is an independent country with all the powers that we need to be able to maximise every opportunity that our vast wealth and resources offer us. Only then will the people of Scotland get the benefit of all of Scotland’s natural resources.

We talk, in Parliament code, about the three-line whip; today’s motion from the Tories is nothing more than a whinge. That is probably the biggest let-down of the lot for the north-east energy sector. The Tories are offering nothing and suggesting nothing and—frankly—they do not want to change anything.

The Government motion, on the other hand, talks in detail about the challenges that we face, the number of workers who need to be supported, the timescales that are involved and the money—almost £500 million—that will provide for an actual just transition for the north-east and Moray. I know which way I will vote tonight.

We move to the open debate.


Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. It feels a bit like déjà vu, because I spoke about the issue in last week’s debate on the just transition. I will probably use some of my words from last week, Presiding Officer, so please forgive me.

It is no surprise that the north-east has relied on the oil and gas industry for many years to provide vital jobs and investment in the region. As a result, it has flourished. My family has been brought up with money that was earned through the oil and gas industry. My other half has worked in the industry for most of his life and my daughter is now an operational technology engineer who spends an awful lot of time on oil rigs doing her work—dinna ask me exactly what she does, because she is a lot brainier than I ever will be.

The member obviously understands the importance of the oil and gas industry. Does she agree that projects such as Cambo need to go ahead, for the prosperity of the north-east?

Jackie Dunbar

My understanding is that it is Shell that has put the kibosh on Cambo.

It is a pity that we cannot agree that what we are trying to do here is protect jobs in the north-east—that is what I am doing—instead of making speeches that, shamefully, try to scare the folk of the north-east into believing that we are shutting down the oil rigs tomorrow. That is an absolute disgrace and I am getting sick and tired of hearing it every day.

Yesterday, at the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, we heard from Professor Haszeldine, who was absolutely brilliant. He talked about why Acorn was not selected. Some of what he said was spot on, and it might come as a surprise to some members. I will read a paragraph from his submission:

“Acorn has long been recognised as being the best-investigated and most mature of all the UK decarbonisation clusters. It is also low risk, because the pipelines exist, the storage site is very well investigated, and minimal new infrastructure is needed. Acorn also opens up access to 80% of the geological storage around the UK, of many diverse geological types, providing the highest chance of developing secure storage geol”—

geology; sorry, my teeth need putting back in—

“and Acorn can rapidly develop supplies of CO2 by shipping from sources around the UK”.

Those factors were not taken into account when people were looking at the contracts.

The Acorn development is huge for us in terms of moving forward with a just transition. However, the UK Government has put it in reserve. I am no expert on this, but I was told yesterday that that means that the companies that are developing technologies and investigating new ways of doing things in relation to it have no way of getting recompense—

Will the member take an intervention?

Jackie Dunbar

I am sorry, but I am just about to finish—I have only 20 seconds left.

The fact that it is on a reserved list means that those companies have no way of getting recompense for the money that they are spending, because there is no guarantee that Acorn will come on stream. That is what is shameful.


Michael Marra

Talk about dejà vu—here I am again. We have had versions of this debate over recent weeks and I do not share the regret that I have heard some members express about that. The country faces no more important economic issue than this. We should be talking about it time and again in the chamber and we should be talking about practical interventions that the Government should be taking. I would be happy to talk about the issue as often as we can, because, as I began my earlier speech by saying, there is nothing that is more important to my region—or to the entire country—than doing something about the just transition, and doing it properly.

I am afraid that, in this short debate, the Government has maintained the position of being heavy on rhetoric and light on reality-based solutions. We have to have a Government that is engaged less in issues of grievance and more in trying to bring forward solutions and work with other Governments, in this country and abroad, to try to help deal with this situation and to bring opportunity to the country.

The minister is keen to highlight the Acorn project, but I am afraid that, as various SNP members have done, he does so very much with a tone of grievance. However, we know that carbon capture is vital to the statutory targets that have been voted through by the Parliament and were meant to be adopted by the Government. If there is not a solution on the table right now, through the current process, it is up to the Government to find a different way of creating a process, finding capital on international markets, finding investors and working with partners to make that happen.

I absolutely agree that the refusal of the track 1 status for the carbon capture project in the north-east has been a setback. However, the reality is that a solution has to be found. When I asked the minister a few weeks ago how many times he had met the UK Government to pursue the issue, he told me at that time that he had met it at least two or three times to pursue the issue, but it turns out that he has not met it at all—

That is not true.

I am afraid that a freedom of information request for details of the cabinet secretary’s diary absolutely confirmed that no such meetings took place.

Michael Matheson

Off the top of my head, I recall that, the very day before the UK Government made its announcement, I had a call with Greg Hands in which I raised the very issue of the Scottish cluster with him and asked whether, when he announced his net zero strategy, he would announce the outcome of the work on that, given its importance to the Scottish economy. That is one very good example of exactly when I discussed the matter with the UK Government.

The cabinet secretary—

I get to reintroduce you to the debate, Mr Marra.

I call Michael Marra.

Michael Marra

Apologies, Presiding Officer.

I would be happy to provide the minister with the response to the FOI request that shows that no such meetings are detailed in his diary. I assume that notes will be available from those meetings, if he believes that they actually took place.

We need a Government that is able to walk the walk rather than talk the talk. Paul McLennan talked about people letting Scotland down. It is the job of this Government and this Parliament to lift Scotland up and to find solutions rather than finding conflict at every turn.

We have to get practical. I would like to hear the minister address the practical suggestions that were made by Labour members, such as lifting the cap on offshore wind innovation projects and say what can be done in that regard. Another suggestion involves moving to monthly auctions for offshore wind licences in order to build the pipeline and stimulate more companies that can develop different products. I do not think that having yearly or bi-yearly auctions for offshore licences is stimulating throughput in the pipeline. Port directors around Scotland have highlighted that to me in recent weeks.

We also need to look at increasing domestic content. The UK Government introduced a contract this week that had no requirements for domestic content, whereas the US Government is introducing 55 per cent limits on that. There is a lot that we can all do.

We need to get real about the issue and we need to get deeply practical. The more often that we can discuss this—and the further that we can move away from the conflict and rhetoric that many members bring to the chamber—the better, because jobs in the north-east and the future of the Scottish economy depend on it.


Michael Matheson

Like others, I welcome the debate on a sector that is so important to the Scottish economy, given the role that it will play in helping to support and sustain an economic and energy transition in Scotland. My view, and that of the Scottish Government, is that the skills and assets of our oil and gas sector in Scotland are a strength in that transition. They will help to support the move towards low-carbon energies, which will serve us in the years ahead.

Colin Smyth was right to say that we are operating on borrowed time. The backdrop to the debate is that, in the face of the twin crises—the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis—we need to ensure that the actions that we take on energy policy in the years ahead reflect the global climate change challenge that we all face. There might be different views in the Parliament on how we should do that—the pace at which and manner in which it should be done—but I believe that no member does not recognise that we need to deliver a just transition for the people who are employed in or depend upon our oil and gas sector.

Members who are old enough to have lived through the economic, social and community disaster that was created by the closure of our coal pits and steel mills cannot, given the intergenerational impact that that had, allow it to be repeated. No Government can allow that and this Government will not stand aside and allow such a repeat of governmental failure.

Liam Kerr

Last week, Gary Smith of the GMB said that workers

“have been lied to ... because the Scottish Government ... have been ... promising tens of thousands of jobs in the renewables sector and these jobs have never materialised.”

Was he right?

Michael Matheson

No, he was not, but I understand that his view of energy policy is not consistent with the Scottish Government’s. For example, he would like there to be more nuclear energy and we do not support that.

However, I recognise that we need to do more to grow and develop our renewable energy sector. I referred to a good example of that in the past week: the new factory that is being developed at Nigg. That is a good practical example of a facility that was largely used for oil and gas purposes being converted into an important facility to help to support the transition to renewable energy.

I will pick up on the point that a number of members made about growing and developing our offshore energy sector, particularly the renewable energy elements of it.

Members will be aware—I refer to Colin Smyth’s speech—that we are going through the ScotWind process that involves the leasing of the sea bed in a number of different parts of Scottish waters. It is the first time that we have had such a leasing programme because, previously, the matter was controlled by the Crown Estate at a UK Government level. Now that we have devolved competence in that area, we are ensuring that a clear statement of intent on how those who secure leases will support the domestic supply chain is embedded in the process. That is starting to materialise in the decision that was announced in relation to Nigg last week. However, we absolutely need to develop it and grow it further. We also need to ensure that we capitalise on it.

I will pick up on Michael Marra’s point on the INTOG process. It is out to consultation, but it is important that we do not let the oil and gas industry off the hook and let down the innovative businesses that seek to develop technology that could help to decarbonise oil and gas facilities at sea through the use of renewable energy by simply lifting the cap to a level that compromises their ability to do that.

I hear those in the industry who say that we should just do what the UK Government is doing. There may be merit in doing that, and I am not ruling it out, but I do not want to simply remove the challenge to the oil and gas sector to decarbonise their operations, or let down those in the renewables sector who need us to support innovation.

We need to ensure that, while we listen to the views of the industry, we do not simply back away from challenging it in the process. We will take those views into account, and I will undertake to write to Mr Marra with more details around how we will consider them as part of the consultation, if that would be helpful.

Finally, I turn to the importance of the Scottish Cluster. No one should be in any doubt about the critical importance of the role that the Scottish Cluster plays, not just in the decarbonisation of key parts of the Scottish oil and gas industry, but in helping us to meet our climate change targets. The UK Government will not be able to achieve its own climate change targets without the Scottish Cluster.

The reality is that, if we are to deliver a just transition for our oil and gas industry, all Governments need to play their part. That includes the UK Government, which must play its part by supporting the cluster and moving it into track 1. In doing so, it will start to demonstrate the ambition and leadership that is necessary to ensure that we deliver for the north-east of Scotland and the oil and gas sector, and on our climate change targets.

I believe that there is a good future for our oil and gas sector in Scotland in supporting us to move towards low-carbon energies. The Scottish Government will do everything in its control to ensure that we deliver on that vision in the future.

I call Douglas Lumsden to wind up the debate for the Conservatives. Mr Lumsden, you have seven minutes, in light of the fact that the cabinet secretary had six.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

It is telling that, when it comes to defending the thousands of jobs in the north-east, it is the Scottish Conservatives who bring the debates to the chamber. Every other party seems to have abandoned the energy industry.

I offer Mark Ruskell and Jackie Dunbar no apologies for bringing such a debate to the chamber again today, because we will bring up the issue any time in order to defend the thousands of jobs that are at stake in the north-east. The Conservative group is 100 per cent behind our transition to net zero—there is no doubt about, and no questioning, that commitment—but we believe in just that: a transition, with no cliff edge, no immediate stop to oil and gas production, no uncertainty for workers and a coherent plan to protect the north-east.

At present, the SNP-Green coalition has no plan. It is creating a huge amount of anxiety in my region, and is threatening the oil and gas industry with a cliff edge that could harm us all. Its approach is putting tens of thousands of north-east jobs at risk, which will have a devastating impact on the economy of not just the north-east but Scotland as a whole.

That brings me to some of the contributions that we have heard today. Liam Kerr rightly mentioned Russia, Qatar and Norway, which will be looking on gleefully as the First Minister shoots herself in the foot and strengthens jobs and the economies in those countries.

Paul McLennan asked twice: who is supporting Acorn? I can tell him now, because he would not take an intervention. The UK is supporting Acorn, to the tune of £31 million so far. I tell Jackie Dunbar that that is real support. There is nothing, I believe, from the Scottish Government.

We also heard from the cabinet secretary. He spoke once again about the £500 million transition fund that was in the budget last week. We heard about £20 million of capital funding, but as yet we do not know whether companies have to bid in or whether there are projects in the pipeline. There are absolutely no details whatsoever. Liam McArthur rightly pointed out the importance of jobs and retraining, but he mentioned, as other members have, the lack of detail on the transition fund.

The debate is taking place not only in the Parliament; others outside the chamber are having a say. The former SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond, said at the weekend that the SNP had

“kicked the north-east in the teeth”.

He gets it. Union leaders get it, too, John Boland from Unite the union and Jake Molloy of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers both spoke of their fears after hearing the news that Shell had withdrawn from Cambo. They are right to be worried.

I sit on the Finance and Public Administration Committee, where witness after witness gives evidence that shows that our economy is in serious trouble. Much of that is driven by this coalition, with the Greens pulling the strings. Compared to the rest of the UK, our tax intake per person is lower and getting worse, our welfare bill is rising faster, our working population is falling, economic growth is lower and recovery is slower. The complete incompetence of this devolved Scottish Government is an absolute disgrace.

We cannot simply throw that industry over the cliff edge and expect our economy to weather it, because it will not. There are significant consequences that this devolved Government and its coalition partners fail to acknowledge or address. Transition means just that—a steady and progressive move from large-scale production in the north-east to a more balanced picture between renewables and oil and gas. We have to be realistic and we have to take account of all our responsibilities.

As a Parliament, we have to consider all aspects of the transition from oil and gas, such as the fact that we need to know where the oil and gas that we still need comes from. We cannot simply import from other countries that have weaker environmental standards than we do, because that would be counterproductive and irresponsible. The transition has to include ensuring that we have adequate resources at home, so that our citizens can stay warm without relying on imported oil and gas at increased cost to our pockets, workforce and global environment. A transition means moving towards renewables quickly, but in a managed and structured way, so that we protect jobs, livelihoods and the economy.

Some of the statements from the SNP-Green coalition have been very disturbing, as Liam Kerr mentioned earlier.

Will the member give way?

Yes, I will.

How embarrassed must the SNP be if it brings the Green minister into the chamber to listen to the debate but does not let him speak?

It is probably a good thing that we do not hear him speak, but I am glad that he is here, because I want him to address something that I will say later on.

I will speak if he wants me to.

I will be pleased if he does.

Patrick Harvie

I am grateful to the member for giving way. The Conservatives, not necessarily here, but at Westminster, are still selecting as candidates—as politicians—people who are outright climate deniers and who have moved on from supporting Brexit to opposing lockdown and are now forming the net zero scrutiny group to oppose climate action UK-wide. How embarrassed are the Tories about that?

Douglas Lumsden

The most embarrassing thing is that we have a Scottish minister who uses language like that and who has been put in charge. It is unbelievable.

Perhaps Patrick Harvie should take note of Sir Ian Wood’s comments last week, when he said that politicians should

“reflect carefully on their public statements on oil and gas and the impact they have on investment in the industry”.

He added:

“We must not create an adverse investment environment at this crucial moment in our energy transition journey. The future prosperity of our region and the country’s ability to meet net zero, depends on it.”

I draw attention to the comments of the Green minister Patrick Harvie, who joins us today, calling supporters of oil and gas in the north-east “far right”.

No, I did not.

Those were shocking statements, which call into question his ability to serve as a Government minister.

Patrick Harvie

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I suspect that the member knows that I did not use the words “far right” and that he is well aware that he is misleading the chamber. If my suspicion is wrong, I will apologise, but, if he is aware that he is using words that I did not use and that I used the words “hard right” to describe him and his party, not anybody else, then I suspect that he should withdraw his comments.

Mr Harvie is aware that the content of members’ contributions is not a matter for me, so it is not a point of order, but a mechanism exists by which members can correct their contributions.

Douglas Lumsden

Only a few hours later, my constituency office was vandalised, with swastikas spray-painted on the door and windows. The police are treating that as a hate crime. I am not telling the police how to do their job, but perhaps they should consider that a member of this Parliament instigated that attack.

Mr Lumsden, can you please conclude your remarks, as we are over time?

The debate—

That is outrageous.

Douglas Lumsden

It is shameful. The language is shameful.

The debate is an opportunity for all parties to agree that we need to transition away from oil and gas in a sensible and sustainable way, without throwing thousands of north-east jobs under the bus.

Please conclude.

The damage that is being caused by the comments—

Please conclude, Mr Lumsden.

The damage is heartbreaking.

Today’s debate is our opportunity to send the message that the north-east of Scotland is open for business.

That concludes the debate on backing the north-east economy.

Stephen Kerr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Given the technical issues that surrounded the use of BlueJeans today, and the decision to perhaps defer votes to tomorrow, can you shed some light on when exactly those votes might be held during the course of tomorrow’s business?

I cannot confirm at this moment, as the situation is being further investigated, but I will update the chamber as soon as possible.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. One of the Labour speeches in the next debate would have been given remotely. Due to the technical difficulties that have already been referred to, I ask for your indulgence to allow me to deliver a speech on behalf of Claire Baker during that debate.

Thank you, Mr Whitfield. You may certainly do so.