Energy switch

Swinney adds to Forbes’ hint of oil and gas u-turn

John Swinney at today’s campaign launch

Further evidence has emerged that John Swinney will abandon the SNP’s policy of opposing new oil and gas licences in the North Sea as the party risks losing support in the north east.

The First Minister said he was exploring its policy, which includes a presumption against new licences.

His comments add to Economy Secretary Kate Forbes’ message to a business conference last week when she said it was important to “listen and understand” the industry and “not turn the taps off”.

It is understood that pressure for change has come from SNP figures in the region, including Westminster leader Stephen Flynn.

Mr Swinney said in an interview this weekend: “I want the Scottish Government to work closely and carefully with the oil and gas sector to ensure its sustainability.

“We need the oil and gas sector to contribute to the transition to net zero, so it has to be strong enough and robust enough to do that.

“In addition to that, I want to make sure that the sector is able to contribute to the objectives of energy security that we’ve set out in our policy programme.

“It’s an exploration of our position, that’s how I would describe it. The Scottish Government wants to work with the oil and gas sector to ensure its fiscal sustainability.”

Ms Forbes told the Prosper Forum in Edinburgh on Thursday that oil and gas companies must continue re-investing their profits in the North Sea to retain the jobs needed for the transition to renewable sources.

The Scottish Government draft energy plan, published in 2023, included a presumption against new oil and gas drilling licences, and a just transition to clean renewable energy in Scotland’s efforts to reach net zero.

The position was largely symbolic as new licences are reserved to Westminster, but it sent a powerful signal to the energy industry.

Kate-Forbes-and-John-Swinney-
Kate Forbes and John Swinney have hinted at a softening of oil policy (pic: Terry Murden)

At a campaign launch in Glasgow today, Mr Swinney told supporters: “Your SNP government has transformed lives in Scotland and we have a record to be proud of.”

Repeating earlier messages, he said he had looked closely at other countries in Europe, such as Denmark, Norway and Ireland, as a “model of what is possible” for an independent Scotland.

He criticised Labour’s health policy as indicating “creeping privatisation of the NHS”, even though the private sector already plays a huge role in the NHS and higher paid earners have said they would be prepared to pay for health services to ease the burden on the taxpayer.

He said Brexit alone has wiped billions from the Scottish economy compared with EU membership, pushing up food, mortgages, and other household costs.

But he made no mention of a report today that the Scottish Government has had to hand back £450 million of EU money ministers failed to spend on key economic and anti-poverty projects.

This equates to 28% of the European structural and investment funding it received in the past six years.

Schemes to boost employment, education, training and social inclusion as well as those aimed at supporting small and medium-sized businesses are among the areas to lose out on the greatest share of investment.

In an earlier statement the SNP claimed that Mr Swinney is behind a rise in business confidence. This was despite him being in post for just nine of the 16 days that the Bank of Scotland survey spanned.

It was part of a poll by Lloyds Banking Group which showed business confidence had risen across the UK.



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