Douglas Ross has said politicians should be focusing on saving lives and jobs instead of “constitutional division”, after a poll suggested most Scots favoured indyref2 if pro-independence parties win a majority next year.
The Scottish Conservative leader called on all political parties to concentrate on tackling the coronavirus pandemic when he outlined his plans to support the oil and gas industry at an online event in Aberdeen.
Mr Ross was reacting to a Survation poll suggesting Scots support holding a second referendum by a margin of almost two to one if pro-independence MSPs win a majority at Holyrood in the Scottish election in May.
People were asked if they thought that having more than half of MSPs from independence-supporting parties would constitute a mandate for another referendum to be held.
Almost half of people (49 per cent) said this would be the case, with 27 per cent saying they agreed strongly and another 22 per cent saying they would “somewhat agree”.
I really think it is incumbent on all politicians of all parties to focus on the key threats we are facing right now – not focus on constitutional divisions that some politicians want us to get back into when we have global pandemic that’s still taking far too many lives here in Scotland and across the UK.”
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader
Just over a quarter (27 per cent) were opposed, with 17 per cent strongly disagreeing and 10 per cent disagreeing “somewhat”. Sixteen per cent neither agreed nor disagreed.
When those who did not know (9 per cent) were removed, the poll found 54 per cent thought there would be a mandate for a second referendum, while 30 per cent disagreed. The Survation poll put support for Scottish independence at 54 per cent.
Asked about the poll, Mr Ross said: “I’m not going to start predicting what the outcome of next May’s election will be before the campaign’s started or a single vote’s been cast.
“But I could see from the people I was having a discussion with today, their priority is protecting jobs in the North Sea oil and gas industry, about protecting a workforce that is going through troubling times and my priority is protecting Scottish jobs right across the country and dealing with this pandemic from both a health response and an economic response.”
Mr Ross added: “I really think it is incumbent on all politicians of all parties to focus on the key threats we are facing right now – not focus on constitutional divisions that some politicians want us to get back into when we have global pandemic that’s still taking far too many lives here in Scotland and across the UK.”
Last week Scottish Secretary Alister Jack dismissed calls for a second independence referendum “for a generation”, suggesting the timespan should be “25 to 40 years” before another is considered.
Mr Ross said the period suggested by Mr Jack was the “same rough timescale” that he assumed Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had in mind when they signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which set out the terms of the 2014 vote.
Mr Ross said Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon had said they would “respect the result of the referendum” at that time.
The Tory leader added: “I think we should respect the result of 2014 and focus on what really matters to people right now, getting on top of this pandemic, saving lives and saving livelihoods.”
Tories will ‘not throw away oil and gas jobs…’
In his speech to business leaders, Mr Ross called on ministers at Holyrood and Westminster to work together to help find a “more positive future” for the North Sea oil industry.
With more than 100,000 people in Scotland employed in the sector, the Conservative MP said his party would “not throw away oil and gas jobs to achieve climate goals”.
He also called for action to tackle the gender gap in the industry, which means that just 3% of its offshore workforce are female. Mr Ross said more emphasis had to be put on making sure girls were taught Stem subjects at school.
We need our North Sea oil and gas sector to survive for decades, not for years.”
Mr Ross said while it was right to push to expand Scotland’s renewable energy sector as part of efforts to meet the target of achieving net zero emissions by 2045, there had been “far too much focus on managing the decline of the oil and gas industry”.
“We need to prepare for the future but the priority for me is the 100,000 jobs in the sector right now,” the Scottish Conservative leader said.
“My party will not throw away oil and gas jobs to achieve climate goals. We need our North Sea oil and gas sector to survive for decades, not for years.
“It can thrive and grow alongside a thriving and growing renewables sector. This is not a competition. We are going to be reliant on oil and gas for years to come.”
To help with this, he said the Scottish and UK governments “need to find new ways to work together on a more positive, bright future for the industry”.
The Scottish Tory leader wants the two administrations to jointly establish a North Sea ministerial working group to align investment programmes and strategies for the industry, which he insisted has a “long and sustainable future”.
Speaking about renewables, he said there are “not tens of thousands of vacant jobs in renewables waiting to be filled” and these green sources of energy “will not fulfil all of our energy demands in the near future”.
Mr Ross also called for offshore Covid testing so that workers would no longer have to go back to the mainland to undertake the procedure when alerted by the test and protect system.
Currently, offshore workers are obliged to fly off the rigs for a test then have to self-isolate.
‘Tories’ bizarre approach’
Green MSP Mark Ruskell claimed the Tory was “engaging in anti-science climate change denial “.
Mr Ruskell said: “Scotland has an abundance of renewable energy potential yet the Scottish Tories seem determined to hitch our future to the fossil fuel relics of the past.
“The Tories’ bizarre approach also lets the SNP off the hook for failing to capitalise on Scotland’s potential and deliver the quality, well-paid, unionised green jobs that we know can be created now.
“Most oil workers want to put their skills to work in Scotland’s renewables sector. But SNP and Tory governments have so far failed miserably to deliver on promised jobs.”
Stark economic climate
Industry body Oil and Gas UK welcomed Mr Ross’s “recognition of the vital role of the offshore oil and gas industry in our economy”.
Chief executive Deirdre Michie said: “Through a North Sea transition deal we can help the huge parts of our economy which can’t use electricity to meet climate change targets, developing practical solutions including the development of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage at scale.
“At the same time, we remain laser-focused on reducing our emissions.
“We look forward to conversations with all parties about the continued support needed for our sector in difficult times.
“In a stark economic climate for all, our changing industry has the essential expertise to provide affordable energy to millions of households and families, support jobs in energy communities across the country and create exciting new jobs of the future.”