Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has been accused of insulting thousands of North Sea workers after suggesting that only the “hard right” now support new oil and gas extraction.
Speaking in the wake of Shell’s decision to withdraw from the controversial Cambo scheme, he claimed the Conservatives were now “isolated” on the future of the sector.
However, his remark about the “hard right” sparked a backlash from prominent SNP figures in the north-east, who branded it “silly and offensive”.
And the Tories called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to distance the Scottish Government from the claim.
Oil giant Shell had a 30% stake in the Cambo field, west of Shetland, but said on Thursday that the economic case for the project was “not strong enough”.
It follows a huge controversy over the development of the site in recent months, as world leaders have attempted to focus efforts on tackling the climate emergency.
Ms Sturgeon recently confirmed her opposition to the project.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Mr Harvie welcomed Shell’s decision, and hailed a dramatic change in Scottish politics on the use of fossil fuels.
He said: “The Greens have been very, very clear all through this debate, that new oil and gas extraction is not compatible with a serious response on climate.
“And it is remarkable how much the political landscape in Scotland has shifted.
“Even just a year ago I would challenge repeatedly all of the other parties to drop their support for maximum oil and gas extraction. It was almost impossible to get them to engage with that debate, and none of them would drop that policy.
“Now, almost all of them have dropped it. The first minister came out against Cambo recently, and has challenged the idea that ongoing maximum oil and gas extraction can be sustainable.
‘Only the hard right deny the reality’
“Labour and Lib Dems have changed their position, and the Tories are now isolated.
“It is only the hard right who continue to deny the reality that, not only environment groups, but the International Energy Agency, are very clearly saying, that new oil and gas extraction is simply not compatible with preserving our life support system.”
Mr Harvie added that it was “absurd” to suggest that the transition to renewable technologies would depend on more drilling.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative MSP for the north-east, said: “Patrick Harvie wrongly brands supporters of Scotland’s oil and gas industry as ‘hard right’, which is insulting to the tens of thousands of workers in our North Sea sector.
“Nicola Sturgeon must distance her government from these comments quickly.
“Her opposition to future oil and gas projects seems to be discouraging investment already. It won’t help if she lets government ministers take pot shots at everyone who works in oil and gas.”
Several senior SNP figures also criticised Mr Harvie.
Fergus Mutch, the party’s former head of communications, said: “Patrick Harvie’s comments are downright stupid, and pretty offensive.
“A north-east oil worker worried for their future livelihood shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as a hard right headbanger.
“Many of these people will be SNP or even Green voters, and they’ll be astonished to hear these remarks coming from a Scottish Government minister.”
Seeking to protect jobs whilst reducing reliance on carbon heavy imports as part of a JUST transition is apparently a priority of “hard right”. My friends & family, who work in the industry, will be delighted to know this is how they are viewed. Silly & offensive. https://t.co/NFuSmVX4Kb
— Geoff Aberdein (@geoffaberdein) December 3, 2021
Geoff Aberdein, who served as chief of staff to Alex Salmond when he was first minister, was among those who responded on social media, branding the remark “silly and offensive”.
Aberdeen South SNP MP Stephen Flynn said: “Last week a Minister said they had ‘set them straight’. This week a Minister talks of the ‘hard right’.
“You can support a Just Transition without denigrating an industry that supports the jobs of *thousands* of my constituents.
“Tone things down and work together to hit net zero.”
Last week a Minister said they had ‘set them straight’. This week a Minister talks of the ‘hard right’. You can support a Just Transition without denigrating an industry that supports the jobs of * thousands* of my constituents. Tone things down and work together to hit net zero. https://t.co/IMLIwCQ13s
— Stephen Flynn MP (@StephenFlynnSNP) December 3, 2021
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, also appeared on Good Morning Scotland on Friday.
He said: “I think what we need today and going forward is a more reasoned debate than we are currently getting.”
‘Vilified as the baddies’
Mr Borthwick added: “We need to stop some of the knee-jerk reactions that we are hearing.
“We need just transition to become a meaningful programme of action, and not just a glib phrase.
“We actually need investment, much of which of course is coming from those oil majors who are being vilified as the baddies.”