Fearful outlook for North East economy as only Conservatives commit to oil and gas

Andrew Bowie

The Scottish Conservatives have doubled down on their commitment to safeguarding jobs in the oil and gas industry. In a manifesto tailored specifically for the North East of Scotland, the party prioritises oil and gas, infrastructure upgrades, boosting the local economy, safeguarding farming and fishing, and increasing council funding in the region. It is a point worthy of note that none of the other parties have a manifesto specifically aimed at North East of Scotland interests.

Scottish Business News looks at this key issue against the backdrop of the Conservatives clear statement of support for such a critical industry.

In launching the manifesto, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine candidate, Andrew Bowie, said “This manifesto outlines key policies that would revitalise the north east, which has been betrayed by this central belt-focused SNP Government. He added that, “The SNP have disregarded thousands of skilled workers by opposing new North Sea oil and gas licences. In contrast, the Scottish Conservatives acknowledge the vital role oil and gas will continue to play as part of a fair transition.”

“The SNP have harmed the local economy by making Scotland the most taxed part of the UK, neglecting to pass on business rates relief, slashing farming and fishing budgets, and botching the R100 broadband rollout,”

The UK Conservative government has recently restated its support for oil and gas after taking some considerable heat from Scottish Conservatives on the matter of increased tax burden on the industry. Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, confirmed plans to grant “hundreds of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea” to “bolster energy security, create jobs, and build space for carbon capture usage and storage projects.” Sunak argued that these measures will help “protect more than 200,000 jobs in a vital industry as we grow the UK economy.

Other Party Positions on Oil and Gas


In complete contrast to this positive undertaking, the SNP has adopted a middle ground, non-committal approach, assessing new licensing applications on a “case-by-case” basis, considering climate compatibility, energy security, and energy costs”. Although this is potentially an improvement on its previous stance of being clearly anti-oil and gas, it is far from a reassuring commitment. Until the announcement of the next General Election the SNP official stance and the positioning of its North East MPs was either completely against further development or non-committal. The public is incredulous it would seem. In arguing for this flexible stance on BBC’s Question Time, Deputy First Minister, Kate Forbes faced laughter from the audience in a performance that the Scottish Daily Express described as a “car crash”. One audience member asked Ms Forbes to simply answer the question.


Similarly, Labour opposes granting any new licenses, although Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar states, “there would be ‘no turning off the tap’ or ‘cliff edge’ with Labour’s policy.” Labour’s opposition to granting new oil and gas licenses and exploration in the North Sea has put the party at odds with major unions like Unite and GMB, who are deeply concerned about potential job losses in the industry.

On this issue, Labour is at odds with its traditional support base – the Unions. Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham warned Labour against allowing “oil and gas workers in Scotland to become the coal miners of our generation”, referring to the devastating impact of pit closures in the 1980s. In defence of the jobs issue, Unite has launched a “No Ban Without a Plan” billboard campaign in Scottish constituencies like Aberdeen, demanding Labour provide a clear roadmap to protect these jobs during the transition. The GMB union has labelled Labour’s no new licenses stance as “naive”, criticizing the lack of an industrial plan to create alternative employment.

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to end fossil fuel subsidies and deliver a just transition but does not specifically address drilling licenses.

The Scottish Greens

In contrast to the SNP position, there is no equivocation from The Scottish Greens. They have firmly opposed new oil and gas exploration. Co-leader Lorna Slater stated, “With Greens in government, Scotland adopted a position of no support for coal, oil and gas extraction on land, ending any prospect that these industries could be revived.” 

The Future

The lack of support from everyone except the Conservations is of significant concern.  Given current polling data indicating a significant Labour lead, the lack of support for oil and gas presages a bleak future for the North East, the Scottish economy and 200,000 UK jobs half of which are thought to be in Scotland.

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