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

Future of Britain’s oil and gas sector fiercely contested before general election

Aberdeen Harbour. Getty Images
Aberdeen Harbour. Getty Images

In Britain’s past three elections, the Scottish seat of Gordon has changed hands three times and, with voters going to the polls tomorrow, the issue of oil and gas has become pivotal.

Gordon is one of three parliamentary constituencies straddling the north-east city of Aberdeen, Britain’s oil and gas capital.

It is estimated that about 23,500 people in the Aberdeen area are directly employed by the industry, while another 82,000 work locally in the supply chain.

The combined figure accounts for almost half of all the jobs in the area. In Aberdeen, the granite city on the North Sea coast, oil is still king.

The UK’s main opposition party, Labour, was accused of imposing a tax on Aberdeen after the party announced its plans to charge the oil and gas sector a windfall tax of £11 billion (Dh53.21bn) to “pay the cost of the climate emergency”.

Trying to ease the backlash in Scotland, Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, insisted the cash generated by the tax would be returned to the local economy.

Twitter/ @cllrthomson
Twitter/ @cllrthomson

“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,” Mr McDonnell said.

“It will be the biggest investment Scotland has seen in generations, £100bn and more.

The Labour Party, which a decade ago had seemed unassailable in Scotland, has not been competitive in Gordon since the seat was created in the 1980s.

In this general election, the seat is a straight-up race between Conservative incumbent Colin Clark and the Scottish National Party’s Richard Thompson.

The issue is just one of many that have have buoyed the ruling Conservative Party’s hopes of putting in a good performance tomorrow in Scotland.

Before the campaign was launched the party was facing predictions of being wiped out in the 13 seats it holds of the 59 Scottish parliamentary seats.

But the campaign has focused on issues such as oil industry fortunes and Scottish independence, which have played to its strengths.

The SNP and the Conservatives have been unequivocal in their rejection of Labour’s plans, as the party’s Gordon candidate, Richard Thompson, 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,” Mr Thompson 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.

“It is about how we effect that transition. Because we know the devastation that was effected on central Scotland and towns and cities in the north of England when the coal industry shut down.”

Twitter/ @Colin_J_Clark
Twitter/ @Colin_J_Clark

He said that by and large people had accepted the argument about climate change, but a transition to renewable energy needed to be carefully managed.

Mr Clark was equally emphatic.

“Labour’s windfall tax would threaten more than 100,000 jobs in Scotland, many of which are based in and around Aberdeen,” he said after Labour’s policy launch.

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

The SNP’s economy spokeswoman, Kirsty Blackman, who is standing in neighbouring 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,” Ms Blackman said.

Gordon and surrounds have not escaped the Brexit debate that has dominated the general election.

The dynamics of Britain’s divorce from the EU and the SNP’s political independence from Westminster have bled into the oil and gas debate.

The SNP, which plans to set aside £1bn in North Sea revenues to allow the transition to low carbon industries in the region, said the Conservatives' “obsession with Brexit” risks a “hammer blow to the sector”.

But the Conservatives have demanded the SNP make it clear that any potential coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists at Westminster excludes manoeuvring on oil and gas.

A possible deal between the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is regarded by the nationalists as a clear path to a repeat referendum on 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 in the light that 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, is playing to fears of a hard Brexit if Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to Parliament with a majority on Friday.

Updated: December 11, 2019 09:20 AM

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