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by Margaret Taylor
20 June 2024
Ross and Swinney accuse each other of dishonesty during tetchy FMQs

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was told off for using the 'Honest John' jibe against the first minister | Alamy

Ross and Swinney accuse each other of dishonesty during tetchy FMQs

First Minister John Swinney and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called each other’s integrity into question during today’s session of First Minister’s Questions as they traded blows over the government’s stance on oil and gas.

Ross opened the session by accusing the first minister of being opposed to the development of Rosebank, an oil and gas field in the North Sea, saying it would create 1,600 jobs and bring £6bn of investment to the country.

He cited statements made by former first ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, saying the project had been opposed by “SNP leader after SNP leader”.

However, Swinney accused the Tory leader of misrepresenting his position, saying “one of the reasons why I suspect Douglas Ross is leaving the leadership of the Conservative Party is that he is not presenting an accurate picture of the remarks that I have made”.

“The specific remark that I made was that a commitment to undertake, without any scrutiny, 100 new oil and gas licences by the prime minister was climate denial of the first order, and utterly and totally reckless. Those were my words, and I will not have them misrepresented by Douglas Ross,” Swinney said.

“We have a rational and considered process that we have argued for, which is that […] every individual application should be subject to a climate-compatibility assessment, because there is a journey that we have to make as a country to reach net zero. That is inescapable.”

Ross responded by saying that the first minister should “just be honest” because “the SNP oppose every single new oil and gas licence being issued by the UK Government”, adding that Swinney was “unable to be truthful with the people of Scotland”.

The pair entered into a rancorous exchange, with Swinney saying “I am not sure Douglas Ross is on his strongest ground taking me to task about honesty” and Ross responding with a jibe about “Honest John”.

Ross has already been reprimanded for calling the first minister by that name, with Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone last month telling him “we do not use nicknames in the chamber”.

In today’s session Johnstone twice told Ross off, first asking him to apologise for using the nickname then, when he said “I apologise again for calling the first minister Honest John”, telling him to “reflect on [his] conduct”.

Swinney then drew attention to reports that the Gambling Commission is looking into concerns that a number of people associated with the Conservative Party, including general election candidate Laura Saunders and her husband Tony Lee – the UK party’s director of campaigning – allegedly placed bets relating to the timing of the general election.

“I do not think Douglas Ross is in a particularly strong position today to raise issues of honesty with me when the Gambling Commission is investigating the alleged conduct of senior figures in the Conservative and Unionist Party,” he said. “I think Douglas Ross is on thin ground.”

Ross later released a statement saying that Swinney is “desperately trying to mislead the public about the SNP’s stance on oil and gas”, adding that “the SNP have opposed the oil and gas industry at every turn”.

Though Sturgeon regularly spoke out against further North Sea development, Swinney and his deputy Kate Forbes have been attempting to roll back from that during the election campaign.

During a campaign stop in Inverness at the weekend, Swinney said that North Sea oil and gas would still be needed “for a period of time” for Scotland's transition to net zero.

Speaking on BBC Question Time last week, Forbes said the party would consider new licences to drill in the North Sea on a “case-by-case” basis, adding that the SNP is “in-between” the pro-exploration Conservatives and anti-exploration Labour on energy policy.

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