Scotland’s finance secretary has called on the UK Government to invest £500 million in the north east as part of a “just transition” away from the oil and gas sector to more environmentally friendly forms of energy.
The Scottish Government has already pledged it will invest the same amount in the region over the next 10 years but Kate Forbes called on UK ministers to match the commitment during her speech to the SNP conference on Sunday.
It follows a group of north east SNP MPs writing directly to Boris Johnson urging the UK Government to stump up the cash.
Stephen Flynn, Kirsty Blackman, Richard Thomson and Dave Doogan pointed to the prime minister’s “inflammatory remarks about the devastation caused by Margaret Thatcher to coal communities across Scotland” and said the funds would help stop history repeating itself for the oil and gas industry.
‘We will not abandon our workers’
Opening the third day of the conference on Sunday, Ms Forbes vowed SNP ministers would not “abandon” workers in the sector in the way the Tories did to heavy industries in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s.
With the country looking to recover economically from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Forbes told delegates that “recovery means that we can, and must, do things differently”.
🤏🏼 Tories, the party of Brexit, are now "taking back control" from Scotland with a power grab.
✂️ All while imposing more austerity and cuts that will push more families into poverty.
— The SNP (@theSNP) September 12, 2021
“We have an opportunity to deliver a just transition to a new economy as we tackle the climate emergency,” she said. “I want to be clear that, in doing so, we will not abandon our workers and communities in that process.
“Thirty years ago, at a previous industrial crossroads, the government of the day abandoned workers and forgot about industry.
“But you have our commitment, we will not allow history to repeat itself in Scotland.”
Ms Forbes added: “I challenge the UK Government here and now to match our commitment, to match our £500 million pledge in Moray and the north east over the next 10 years.”
The finance secretary’s call for investment came at the same time as she accused the Tories at Westminster of seeking to dismantle the devolution settlement in Scotland.
SNP ministers have accused the UK Government of using initiatives such as the Levelling Up Fund and the Union Connectivity Review to fund projects directly in Scotland that should be under the control of the devolved Scottish Government.
“The party of Brexit is now taking back control from Scotland,” Ms Forbes claimed.
“It might sound dry and technical but how we use our country’s wealth to service our citizens is the bedrock of our movement, and the ability to decide how we spend our money is at great risk.
“You see the Tories, knowing they are unlikely ever to secure power in Scotland through a democratic process, are now dismantling the devolution settlement.”
The finance secretary said the Conservatives were looking to “impose their pet projects on Scotland, all wrapped up in a Union Jack”.
She added: “The very fact that the Tories accept the need, in their words, to ‘level up’ reveals the decades of disregard and disdain for Scotland.”
But she insisted: “Levelling up is a con, and it is anything but a fair and rightful redistribution of wealth and resources.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK will gradually transition away from fossil fuels as we replace energy sources with less polluting and more efficient alternatives.
“Our approach will be guided by ensuring the energy transition is fair for workers, businesses, and specific regions like the north-east of Scotland.
“As part of the UK’s shift towards green energy, through our landmark North Sea Transition Deal, we are backing the decarbonisation of the oil and gas sector to support high-value jobs and safeguard the skills necessary to develop new, low carbon industries across the country.
“This deal includes a commitment of up to £16 billion in joint government and oil and gas sector investment by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions.”