RISHI Sunak has accused the Scottish Government of turning its back on the country’s oil and gas industry and the 200,000 jobs it supports.
The Prime Minister seized on a reference to energy in a question from SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn at PMQs to attack Nicola Sturgeon’s new energy strategy.
The strategy, published yesterday at Holyrood, suggests accelerating the winding down of the North Sea basin, which is due to be nearly dry by 2050, and a possible “presumption against new exploration” for oil and gas.
At the same time, the strategy proposes a ramping of jobs in the renewable energy sector.
READ MORE: SNP to consider speeding up decline of North Sea oil and gas sector
However there is industry scepticism that green jobs can ever replace all those lost from oil and gas, as well as resistance from the UK Government, which has the whip hand on energy policy, and which has opened another licensing round for North Sea exploration.
At PMQs, Mr Flynn, the MP for Aberdeen South and a supporter of oil and gas jobs, asked Mr Sunak: “The longest and deepest recession in the entire G7, Brexit, 13 years of Tory rule, the energy price crisis, inflation and interest rates.
“If the people of Scotland are to do the maths, as the Prime Minister so hopes, will they not come to the conclusion that this union simply doesn’t add up?”
Mr Sunak replied: “I’m pleased the honourable gentleman brought up energy and he’s right to do that, because energy, when it comes to the economy, is incredibly important to Scotland.. and actually Scotland will play a fantastic part in helping us transition to net zero.
“But what we do now know is that the Scottish Government don’t want to support the Scottish energy industry and the 200,000 jobs that it produces.
“I’m keen to work with the Scottish Government to support the North Sea because it’s something that we’re all very proud of in the United Kingdom.”
READ MORE: Scottish Government’s delayed energy strategy to tackle demand for oil and gas
Mr Flynn said: “If he wants to talk about the fact that Scotland is energy rich, but fuel poor on Westminster’s watch, I am more than happy to do so.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray as well as a Highlands list MSP, later raised the Scottish Government’s energy plan as well.
To catcalls from the SNP benches, he said: “Scotland’s oil and gas industry supports 90,000 Scottish jobs but yesterday Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Government published plans calling for as fast as possible shutdown of the industry and an end to new exploration.
“These plans are naive and reckless, and were previously described by the SNP leader in this house [Mr Flynn] as crazy.
“So will the Prime Minister reaffirm his support for Scotland’s oil and gas workers and the future of our industry.”
Mr Sunak said Mr Ross was “absolutely right”.
He said: “We know that we will have to rely on hydrocarbons for decades to come as we transition to net zero and consuming oil and gas from the North Sea means less than half the carbon footprint of importing that same oil and gas, which obviously makes sense to do here, and in the process support tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland.
“So I can reassure him that the Scottish oil and gas industry has this government’s wholehearted support.”
Mr Ross said later: “I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to North Sea oil and gas jobs, in the wake of the SNP yesterday doubling down on its decision to abandon the industry.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s reckless pandering to her Green coalition partners would put tens of thousands of jobs at risk in the North East and imperil our energy security at a time of huge global uncertainty.
“The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn must now come clean on whether he backs the First Minister’s stance or his Aberdeen South constituents, whose livelihoods she’d gladly sell down the river. Because he can’t do both.”
Mr Flynn also asked Mr Sunak about his predecessor Boris Johnson earning more than £1million for four speeches in four months since standing down as PM last year.
He said: “Does the Prime Minister not find it utterly perverse that senior members of the Conservative Party are feathering their nest in this way whilst at the same time seeking to deny working people the opportunity to strike for fair pay?”
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Mr Sunak took an apparent dig at Mr Flynn for deposing his predecessor Ian Blackford.
“I don’t think we need to talk about our predecessors,” the Prime Minister said, before also referring to former SNP Westminster leader Alex Salmond.
He went on: “I think it was one of his predecessors that did indeed work for [the now banned TV broadcaster] Russia Today, if I’m not mistaken.
“He talks about the priorities. Yesterday [in a Holyrood debate], the SNP spent time talking yet more about independence at a time when we should be talking about delivering for people across the United Kingdom, focusing on their jobs, improving the NHS across the UK, in Scotland as indeed in everywhere else.
“That’s the kind of thing I want to talk to the Scottish Government about and I hope they will work with me to do that.”
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