Britain Decides: UK’s parties go head-to-head over oil and gas in Scotland

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - In Britain’s last three elections, the Scottish seat of Gordon has changed hands three times and, with voters going to the polls in a matter of days, the issue of oil gas has become a pivotal issue.

Gordon is one of three UK parliamentary constituencies straddling the north eastern city of Aberdeen, Britain’s oil and gas capital. It is estimated that some 23,500 individuals in the Aberdeen area are directly employed by the industry but a further 82,000 people work locally in the supply chain.

These two figures combined account for just under half of all the jobs in the area. In Aberdeen, the granite city sitting off the North Sea coast, oil is still king.

The UK’s main opposition party, the left-wing Labour party, gas been accused of imposing a tax on Aberdeen after the party announced its manifesto plans to charge the oil and gas sector a windfall tax of £11 billion to “pay the cost of the climate emergency”.

Trying to mitigate the backlash against the plans in Scotland, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnel. has insisted the cash generated by the tax will be returned to the local economy.

“No, it’s a tax for Aberdeen because all that money will go on investing in the jobs that people need in the just transition from fossil fuels to renewable,” he said. “It will be the biggest investment Scotland has seen in generations, £100 billion and more,” the shadow chancellor added.

The Labour Party, which a decade ago had seemed unassailable in Scotland, has never been competitive in Gordon since the seat was created in the 1980s. In the 2019 general election the seat is a straight up race between its Conservative incumbent Colin Clark and the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Richard Thompson.

Twitter/ @cllrthomson
Twitter/ @cllrthomson

The issue is just one of a series of issues that have have buoyed the ruling Conservative Party’s hopes of putting in a good performance on Thursday night in Scotland. Before the campaign was launched the party was facing predictions of a wipeout in its 13 of 56 seats. However the campaign has focused on issues such as oil industry fortunes and Scottish independence, which have played to its strengths.

In fact both the SNP and the Conservatives have been unequivocal in their rejection of Labour’s plans, as the party’s Gordon candidate told The National.

“What we need to do is ensure that we secure our future as an energy region and to make sure we retain the human capital, the financial capital and the jobs that will industrialise the innovation that is here that comes out of the oil and gas industry,” he said.

“An awful lot of the skills that you need to put up a wind turbine at sea are common to the oil and gas industry,” he said “It is about how we effect that transition. Because we know the devastation that was affected on central Scotland and towns and cities in the north of England when the coal industry shut down.”

Mr Thompson told The National that by and large people had accepted the argument about climate change, but a transition to renewable energy needed to be carefully managed.

The sitting MP is equally emphatic. “Labour’s windfall tax would threaten more than 100,000 jobs in Scotland – many of which are based in and around Aberdeen,” Mr Clark said in the aftermath of Labour’s manifesto launch.

“Only the Scottish Conservatives can be trusted to stand up for this vital industry on which so many jobs depend,” he added.

The SNP’s economy spokesperson Kirsty Blackman, who is also standing neighbouring in Aberdeen North, has accused Labour of “trying to balance the books on the back of a tax raid that would put tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland at risk”.

“Time and time again, Westminster parties have proven themselves incapable of delivering for Scotland’s oil and gas sector,” she added.

Gordon and the surrounding area has not escaped the Brexit debate that has dominated the General Election across the whole of the UK. The dynamics of Britain’s divorce from the EU and the SNP’s raison d'être, political independence from Westminster, have bled into the oil and gas debate.

The SNP, which plans to set aside £1 billion in North Sea revenues to facilitate the transition to low carbon industries in the region, has said the Conservative’s “obsession with Brexit” risks a “hammer blow to the sector”.

Twitter/ @Colin_J_Clark
Twitter/ @Colin_J_Clark

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have demanded the SNP make it clear any potential coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists at Westminster excludes manoeuvring on the oil and gas sector. A possible deal between the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seen by the nationalists as a clear path to a repeat referendum on the issue of Scottish independence.

In Gordon, which voted “No” in the referendum to leave Britain in 2014 but “Remain” in the vote to leave the EU in 2016, each side is keen to frame the election narrative in the light which best suits it. The Conservatives warn that the pro-union constituency risks Scotland leaving Britain if the SNP gains more seats. The SNP, at the same time, are playing to fears of a hard Brexit if the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to parliament with a majority on Friday.

Updated: December 10, 2019 06:44 PM

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