Oil was to be the foundation upon which an independent Scotland’s prosperity was to be built, according to its supporters.
Last week, after promising another referendum on independence within two years, Nicola Sturgeon effectively reduced the price upon which Scotland’s independent future would be based to nothing. No barrels. No dollars.
That is the effect of her decision to oppose the development of the Cambo oil field. The First Minister wishes the end of Scotland’s oil and gas industry. In doing so, she has not ordered the end of Scotland’s consumption of oil and gas by one drop, or one therm. Her words will not lead to any cut in Scotland’s emissions of greenhouse gases. But instead of exporting oil and creating Scottish employment, the First Minister now wants us to import more gas and export jobs.
Possibly as many as 100,000 Scottish jobs will be lost with no plans for how they are to be replaced if the Scottish First Minister gets her way. This was not a policy or a plan for transition but it is possibly the most expensive press release in Scottish history.
The First Minister is jealous of her legacy. She wants to be remembered. The woman who sang the protest song against Margaret Thatcher with the lyrics “Bathgate no more, Linwood no more” added her own lyric to outdo the Iron Lady: North Sea no more.
The COP26 climate summit proved that there is global recognition of the need to save the planet by reaching zero emissions of carbon dioxide. That argument has been won. The question at issue is how quickly that can be achieved and how the transition from a carbon-based global economy to a carbon-free one can equitably be achieved.
That will require careful analysis, deep thought, tough decisions and unending patience. Instead, we saw a knee-jerk response designed only to generate a headline. As an exercise in virtue-signalling, it was an exemplar of the art.
There was only one job the First Minister was thinking of when she made this announcement. Her own. The jobs of tens of thousands of Scots upon which so many communities, so many families, rely upon, just didn’t figure.
The calculation runs like this. If the First Minister opposes the development of the Cambo oil field and the UK government gives the go ahead, she can say that she cares about the planet and Westminster doesn’t. If Cambo doesn’t go ahead, she can claim victory while Westminster deals with the economic consequences and pays the unemployment benefit and she doesn’t. It is a win-win.
It is a familiar stratagem and one in full swing. Her new favourite sidekick, the Greens’ Patrick Harvie, is already out to play discrediting the character of the people who oppose the plan rather than taking on their argument, attempting to deny them permission to speak.
Anyone supporting ongoing oil and gas jobs is labelled “hard right” by Mr Harvie with all the grace and elan with which Donald Trump condemned questioning journalists as “fake news”. In the category of hard right must now be listed the families of those working in the sector, SNP representatives in the North-East, and trade unionists. Even Trump would blush at that distortion of language in an attempt to smear those with an opposing viewpoint.
Mr Harvie says the Scottish Conservatives advocate the “maximum” extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea, but that is not our policy and never has been. We want a managed transition to a zero-carbon economy and want to keep the lights on while we do it. We want to see new jobs created in the green economy, but we don’t want workers thrown on the scrapheap while they wait for these to emerge.
But then again, this is the only Green leader I can think of who condemns Greenpeace. The only cycling safety minister to turn up at a photocall with school pupils, on a bicycle but not wearing his helmet. What an example to set! Imagine what Mr Harvie would have said if Boris Johnson had done something like that.
We have heard before promises of all the jobs that will be created in the green economy. The former First Minister Alex Salmond – now airbrushed from SNP history – used to boast that Scotland would be the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”. And yet, the ten of thousands of new posts never appeared, with the vast majority of the manufacturing of wind turbines being done overseas.
We can’t afford to make this mistake again. Last week we heard of the creation of the UK’s largest offshore wind tower factory at Nigg on the Cromarty Firth. When it opens in 2023, this facility will employ 400 in manufacturing with over 1,000 estimated additional jobs in the Scottish and UK supply chain. It is supported by the UK government’s offshore wind manufacturing investment support scheme.
This time, these jobs are coming, but they will take time to build up after more than a decade of lost opportunity. In the meantime, the employment of oil and gas workers needs to be sustained, not treated as a political football by Sturgeon and Harvie.
We all agree about the need for a just transition from fossil fuels, but pretending that it can happen overnight simply leads us to greater reliance on imports from Russia and elsewhere, often produced at lower environmental standards than the ones we apply here.
That is a message understood by Scotland’s business community, by the trade unions, and even by some SNP politicians. It is just a pity that our SNP-Green coalition leaders would prefer soundbites to sound policy.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife