SNP accused of ‘shameless retreat’ of climate leadership over oil and gas stance

The SNP has been accused of a “shameless retreat” from climate leadership after Kate Forbes claimed her party was not against new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has criticised remarks made by the Deputy First Minister after she suggested the Scottish Government had “never said no” to new developments, adding a “climate compatibility test” would be necessary.

The Greens went on to vote against an SNP amendment at Holyrood, leading to it being defeated due to the Presiding Officer’s tie-breaking vote.

A presumption against new licences was the position under previous leaders Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf.

Speaking to journalists on the campaign trail in Linlithgow, West Lothian, Ms Forbes said her party was “clear” that it is “not against” new licences.

Kate Forbes during a visit to Maisie Gray Pottery and Crafts in Linlithgow while on the SNP’s General Election campaign trail
Kate Forbes during a visit to Maisie Gray Pottery and Crafts in Linlithgow while on the SNP’s General Election campaign trail (Rebecca McCurdy/PA)

During a Holyrood debate on the issue, Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan confirmed this was the case, stating that while the UK Government is in charge of approving licences, Scottish ministers wanted developments considered on a “case-by-case basis”.

Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday, Mr Harvie accused the SNP of retreating to its “old ways” under the leadership of John Swinney and Ms Forbes.

He said: “The SNP are now back to their old ways, instead of accelerating action on climate, Kate Forbes today is quoted as saying ‘we’ve been clear we’re not against new oil and gas licences’, and ‘we’ve never said no’.

“This represents a shameless retreat from a position of climate leadership.”

SNP leader Mr Swinney has yet to confirm his party’s position under his leadership but Ms Forbes told journalists:  “We’ve been clear that we’re not against new licences per se, but they have to meet a climate compatibility test.”

Patrick Harvie in the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Green party co-leader Patrick Harvie criticised Kate Forbes’s comments (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ms McAllan said: “We are clear that the UK Government must approach licensing on a rigorously evidence-based case-by-case basis with robust climate compatibility and energy security being key considerations.”

Scottish Tory net zero spokesman Douglas Lumsden said it was “abundantly clear” the SNP and Labour were “selling our industry down the river”.

He said: “They are doubling down on their positions of destroying the industry for future generations, with one promising crippling taxes and refusing to issue licences and the other failing to scrap its damaging presumption against new oil and gas.”

Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said the Scottish Government were “pretending their previous position against new licences “did not exist at all”, adding: “The reality is we have a confused position from both the Conservatives and the SNP.”

Following the Scottish Parliament debate, Ms McAllan’s amendment received 56 votes in favour and 56 against – with the Scottish Greens joining the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems in opposing the amendment.

In keeping with convention, the Presiding Officer cast her tie-breaking vote in favour of the status quo and against the amendment.

The parliament instead backed an amendment from Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur, which said “the phasing down of the traditional oil and gas sector must be done hand in hand with the expansion of renewables and the creation of green jobs”.