Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Inside the SNP’s oil and gas problem ahead of party’s Aberdeen conference

Exclusive: First Minister Humza Yousaf wants the region to be the blueprint for a shift to renewable energy, as he plans trip to global climate change conference COP28 in Dubai.

Humza Yousaf has big plans for Aberdeen and the north-east, but are they realistic?

“It’s Scotland’s oil,” was once the rallying cry of the SNP and formed a central part of the nationalist movement’s economic case for independence.

Yet under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership the party made a dramatic shift away from support for continued drilling in the North Sea.

Before the SNP’s conference this weekend in Europe’s oil and gas capital, activists and politicians are grappling with the party’s energy policies.

Looking ahead to his own appearance on stage at the P&J Live conference venue, SNP leader Humza Yousaf says he wants the region to lead the way.

“Let me give an absolute assurance to oil and gas industry, it’s an industry we value,” he told the Press and Journal.

“It’s an industry that has helped power the the north-east but also power the economy of the UK.

“We will not do to any worker in the north-east what Thatcher did to the mining communities right across Scotland.”

Humza Yousaf won the contest to take over from Nicola Sturgeon in spring. Image: PA

Political leaders used the phrase “just transition” to describe a fair deal for employees in fossil fuels looking for jobs in a greener future. Critics claim it’s a slogan in search of a policy.

Mr Yousaf says Aberdeen and the north-east can be the “blueprint” for that shift globally.

He also announced plans to take a delegation to climate conference COP28 in Dubai, two years after the gathering was held in Glasgow to fanfare by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“I think Scotland, the north-east in particular, can be the global blueprint of how you do the just transition,” he said.

Asked what that will mean in practice, Mr Yousaf points to the region’s lucrative energy supply chain.

A lot has changed since Nicola Sturgeon was greeting people at the SNP conference in Aberdeen last year. Image: DC Thomson.

“We need to make sure we have supply chain companies coming to Scotland,” he says.

The US and EU are competing in that field with subsidies and tax benefits already.

But Mr Yousaf hopes more people will be attracted to Scotland – experts and trainees – hoping to make the country a world-leader.

“We have good supply chain infrastructure,” he says. “We need it in far greater quantities.”

SNP upheaval

Mr Yousaf was speaking at Bute House, his official residence in Edinburgh, while dealing with major distractions in his own party.

He is also coping with the reality of his in-laws being trapped in Gaza while Israel reacts to a Hamas terror attack.

Hours before a pre-arranged P&J interview, one of his MPs – Lisa Cameron – announced she was quitting to join the Conservatives. It was a big embarrassment, and one he attempted to laugh off as the least surprising thing that’s happened since he became leader in spring.

He also felt obliged to apologise for comments made by an SNP councillor in Aberdeen towards a Sri-Lankan born Labour representative.

Meanwhile, SNP rebel Fergus Ewing, who is shunning the Aberdeen event, has reiterated his demands for the government to U-turn on its energy policy position against new oil and gas.

Independence supporters who would abandon oil leave a gaping chasm in the economics of independence. Anyone arguing otherwise can whistle Dixie.

– Fergus Ewing

SNP rebel Fergus Ewing. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Mr Ewing told us: “The overall tone of the debate needs to be far less emotional and more rational.

“Anyone who, like me, sets out these rational arguments quickly gets called names by people who cannot respond to the arguments.

“Ironically, there’s far too much heat in the global warming debate.”

The Inverness and Nairn MSP, who is appealing a decision to suspend his membership for one week, represents an old guard of the SNP unhappy with the party’s shift away from oil and gas.

‘Gaping chasm’

He insisted fossil fuels will “remain a major part of our economy for decades”, and warned money generated from the sector “simply cannot be replaced by renewables”.

Mr Ewing added: “Independence supporters who would abandon oil leave a gaping chasm in the economics of independence. Anyone arguing otherwise can whistle Dixie.”

Other party insiders claim many within the SNP are sceptical about the change of pace, even if they have not said so publicly.

Former SNP media chief Fergus Mutch. Image: DC Thomson.

Former media chief Fergus Mutch, who stood for election twice in Aberdeenshire, said the current strategy is damaging the economic case for leaving the union.

He told us: “There’s huge numbers within the SNP who are not convinced the leadership has the strategy right on this. I think this extends to the MSP group.

“I think they’ve already harmed that economic prospectus for independence.”

‘Jobs don’t exist at scale’

While Mr Mutch supports a transition to renewables, he warned “the jobs frankly don’t exist at scale yet”.

And perhaps more worryingly for the SNP, he believes Labour’s strategy on oil and gas may be more in-tune with north-east voters.

He said: “They realise it’s absolutely necessary for sustaining an energy sector through a transition.”

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Aberdeen. Image: PA.

Former first minister Ms Sturgeon made her position clear in 2021 when she opposed the controversial Cambo North Sea scheme.

Politics expert James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, said there had been a change in direction under her leadership.

North-east ‘no longer’ SNP heartland

He told us: “The north-east used to be the heartlands of the SNP. It’s no longer that.

“I think Nicola Sturgeon was very much a central belt MSP. I don’t think she had much understanding beyond the central belt.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to approve the Rosebank oil field for drilling has led to renewed scrutiny of the new SNP leadership’s views.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn. Image: PA.

The party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, MP for Aberdeen South, said all projects must be looked at with an “evidence-based approach”.

He told us: “Aberdeen needs a transition to net zero to ensure that we have a thriving local economy for the long term, but we cannot achieve that without protecting our workforce in the immediate term.”

An SNP source acknowledged there had been slight softening in tone on the move away from oil and gas since Mr Yousaf took power, even if policy remains similar.

The SNP meets for the autumn conference from Sunday until Tuesday at the P&J Live arena in Aberdeen.

Read more on the run-up to conference on our politics pages here.

Listen to our SNP conference preview interview with SNP MP Pete Wishart on our politics podcast, The Stooshie, here.