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EXCLUSIVE: Fewer than a quarter of Scots want support for North Sea extraction scrapped

North Sea oil support
Ithaca's Captain field.

Fewer than a quarter of Scots believe the Scottish Government should scrap support for North Sea oil and gas extraction, according to a new poll.

The survey, carried out for The Sunday Post by Survation, found 54% of those asked believe ministers should continue to back the practice, while just 22% said it should not be supported and 24% said they don’t know.

The future of the oil and gas industry has become a major talking point at this election and group research carried out by Survation for us revealed it is an issue of significant concern for voters across the north east.

The SNP has said any government support for the sector will be conditional on the industry “contributing to a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition”.

In an exclusive interview this week, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie accused the Scottish Greens of “almost repeating the mistakes of Margaret Thatcher from the 1980s” over their own proposals for the industry.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie.

Scottish Greens’ co-leader Patrick Harvie believes oil and gas production should wind down within the next 10 years and his party has called on the government to stop issuing new licences for exploration and to end subsidies and tax breaks.

The north east has been hit by a double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic as well as a fresh downturn in the North Sea industry, which it is feared could accelerate its ultimate decline and the loss of up to 100,000 jobs.

‘We can’t throw these jobs away’

Concerns for the future and the need to transition the economy during the pandemic recovery were raised in our focus group research, and the latest polling suggests Scots are not yet ready for their government to turn its back on North Sea.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that “while we must tackle the climate emergency and achieve our net-zero ambitions, we can’t simply throw these jobs away”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

“This poll shows that people clearly recognise that we must help the sector transition in the coming years towards a renewable future,” he said.

“The UK Government’s recent support for a £16 billion North Sea Transition Deal shows their clear commitment to the industry and to safeguard jobs.

“Instead, the Greens want to risk 100,000 jobs and demand an end to exploration within the next decade as part of joining forces with their friends in the SNP.”

Politicians need to be more honest

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said politicians need to be more honest with communities in the north east when it comes to the future of oil and gas.

“Put simply, the sector cannot continue to explore ways to expand if we are going to survive as a species because new extraction is not compatible with efforts to lower Scotland’s emissions in line with international agreements,” he said.

“Therefore, instead of pretending that the sector isn’t in decline, the only responsible thing to do is invest in the alternative jobs and careers now, to allow a just transition to take place and secure a sustainable future for these communities.”

North Sea oil support
Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin SNP.

Gillian Martin, who is running for the SNP in Aberdeenshire East, said oil and gas “continues to play a vital role in the Scottish economy and supports thousands of jobs in the north east, and still remains part of the energy mix in Scotland”.

She said that without it the country would be forced to import and this would have a “much larger carbon footprint”.

Ms Martin said her party is “determined that those working in the oil and gas sector are supported at every opportunity” and that it will not allow the north east “to suffer the same devastation the Tories caused to former shipbuilding, mining and industrial communities”.

Police and pickets clash outside the Bilston Glen pit, near Edinburgh, in the miners’ strike in 1984.

“To achieve our just transition we must ensure we take the workforce with us and our Transition Fund will protect existing jobs and create new ones in the north east and across Scotland,” she said.

“It will also open up opportunities through energy transition and harnessing private sector funding as companies move to low carbon and renewable investments.”

Ms Martin added: “If we had the powers of independence, we would ensure the tax revenues from oil and gas were invested directly back into areas like the north east to support the transition and to boost the amount of sustainable jobs even further.”

Mike Tholen, sustainability director for OGUK, the leading trade association for the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry, said: “The findings of this survey reiterate the importance of a managed transition – the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry remains a crucial part of the UK economy.

“The industry is changing, and we are committed to playing a positive role in the UK’s energy future.

“Through a managed transition, a strong economy with job prospects for UK workers and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand because of our investment in the jobs, businesses and industries at the heart of the UK’s greener future.”