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by Margaret Taylor
23 February 2024
North Sea spat: Tory leader challenges Yousaf and Sarwar to debate future of oil

Douglas Ross wants to debate his opponents on the future of the North Sea | Alamy

North Sea spat: Tory leader challenges Yousaf and Sarwar to debate future of oil

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has poured fuel on the row currently raging between the SNP and Scottish Labour over the future of the North Sea, challenging the leaders of both parties to a debate on the issue.

The SNP has pounced on UK Labour’s plans to extend the windfall tax currently levied on energy companies should it win the upcoming general election, with First Minister Humza Yousaf this week telling industry leaders in Aberdeen that the proposal is “aggressive” and risks “doubling down on austerity”.

In his speech to his party’s conference last week, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar stood by the plan, saying his party supports the oil and gas sector, but that the windfall tax would help tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

The pair clashed on the issue in First Minister’s Questions yesterday, with Sarwar accusing the SNP of raising taxes on workers while “siding with energy giants”, while the first minister pointed out that industry body OEUK said Labour’s proposal would cost tens of thousands of jobs in the sector.

Ross, who will host his party’s annual conference in Aberdeen next week, has now written to both urging them to debate the issue with him.

"The North Sea oil and gas industry is crucial not just to the 100,000 skilled workers it employs – predominantly in the North East – but to Scotland’s entire economy and energy security," he said.

"That’s why I’m urging Humza Yousaf and Anas Sarwar to join me in a debate on the future of the sector, which has a key role to play in a just and managed transition to net zero."

He said that Yousaf "has some nerve" criticising Labour’s plan, which would raise the current energy-profits levy from 75 per cent to 78 per cent and extend its life by one year to 2029, when the SNP have come out in opposition to the proposed Rosebank and Cambo oilfields.

"While the SNP and Labour argue over which of them would shut down the industry first, only my party is backing Scotland’s oil and gas sector," Ross claimed.

In response, Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said Ross was making a "desperate attempt to pretend his out of touch party has workers’ interests at heart".

He said the Tories at Westminster are "causing economic carnage" and "squandering Scotland’s potential as a clean energy superpower" while the SNP is "insisting that a person earning £28,500 deserves to pay more tax but the energy giants making £33bn deserve to pay less".

He did not comment on whether Sarwar would accept Ross's debate challenge, but added that "Labour will continue to engage with the industry and its workers to ensure jobs are protected". 

An SNP spokesperson said that Yousaf would be "delighted to debate the energy future of the North East and Scotland in Aberdeen" to allow it to "promote our proud record of defending jobs and communities".

"Between them, Tory and Labour governments at Westminster have squandered £400bn of North Sea revenues and invested not a single penny for long-term benefit – in stark contrast to independent Norway, which has built up the biggest sovereign wealth fund in the world from its oil and gas wealth," the spokesperson said.

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