• He brands Prime Minister a ‘climate denier’ over plans to green light 100 North Sea oil and gas licences
  •  Comes just days after SNP appeared to soften its stance on fossil fuel
  •  But John Swinney tells BBC interview that new developments are ‘irresponsible’, sparking accusations he was trying to ‘dupe’ voters into thinking he was having second thoughts

John Swinney has stepped up the SNP’s opposition to oil and gas by claiming the Prime Minister’s plans for new North Sea oil fields are ‘utterly irresponsible’.

The First Minister branded Rishi Sunak a ‘climate denier’ for being in favour of allowing companies to drill off Scotland’s coastline.

The SNP recently softened its stance on fossil fuels, saying any new oil and gas licences must be subject to a ‘climate change test’ rather than being ruled out altogether.

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes even claimed last week that her party had ‘never’ opposed new schemes and instead thought they just needed to be compatible with the country’s climate targets.

But Mr Swinney said Mr Sunak’s granting of permission for 100 new potential projects is ‘utterly irresponsible’.

Scottish Conservative candidate for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Andrew Bowie said: ‘John Swinney has finally let the cat out of the bag and admitted what we all knew – that the SNP has abandoned the North-East.

‘The SNP have sought to dupe voters in the North-East into thinking they were having second thoughts on opposing new oil and gas licences. But John Swinney has made it clear that nothing has changed by doubling down on his party’s anti-oil and gas stance, which threatens tens of thousands of jobs.

‘The Conservatives are the only party standing up for oil and gas workers and the crucial role they play in sustaining North-East communities and our wider economy, energy security and just transition to net zero.’

In discussion with BBC Panorama’s Nick Robinson, Mr Swinney said: ‘What I’m saying is that there has to be an assessment to determine whether or not any licence application is compatible with our net zero obligations.

‘Now the Prime Minister has basically said he will licence 100 new projects, I think that is utterly irresponsible. That is climate denier status of the first order. So we’ve got to have a rational, considered process to look at every application to determine whether it can be sustained and compatible with our climate objectives.’

Pushing the First Minister for clarity, Mr Robinson said the public have been unclear about the Nationalist stance. He said: ‘They knew with your predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, when it came to opening a huge new oil field, Rosebank, said it was the greatest act of environmental vandalism in my lifetime. When you were in coalition with the Greens we knew it was no more oil and gas; now there’s an election it’s all a bit hazy, isn’t it?’

Mr Swinney said: ‘We’ve got a climate emergency, none of us duck that, I can’t duck that and I’m not prepared to duck it. But I’ve also got to manage a transition for the oil and gas sector that enables that sector to establish fiscal sustainability and also to then be able to contribute towards the journey to renewable energy, which is a very significant opportunity in Scotland, particularly in the field of offshore wind.’

Mr Swinney also sought to defend the SNP’s tax rises, claiming that teachers and police officers only pay a ‘very limited’ amount more tax in Scotland and then went on to state that he wants the rest of the UK to pay more too.

He said: ‘For people who are teachers or police officers, the difference in tax is very limited, but of course there are other benefits, like the fact that people in Scotland don’t pay for university tuition or that they don’t pay for prescriptions or that they have generally a council tax payment that’s about £500, £600 lower than if they were living in England.

‘So, there are different considerations to be borne in mind, rather than just focusing on the tax issue. But I’m not in any way seeking to downplay the significance of increasing tax for higher earners, because what that’s done is that’s allowed us to invest in our public services.’

Asked if he was calling for taxes to be raised in other parts of the UK, he said: ‘The alternative to that, of course, is cuts in public spending.’

Scottish Tory finance spokesman Liz Smith said: ‘John Swinney needs to re-do his sums. The SNP’s high-tax regime means hard-working teachers and police officers are paying far more tax in Scotland than they would living south of the Border.

‘He is so wedded to the policy that tax rises are the only answer to tackling his own party’s financial mismanagement that he would do the exact same in England if he could.’

Meanwhile, Mr Swinney and SNP Commons candidate Stephen Flynn say they have set their sights on an independence referendum in five years. Mr Swinney said: ‘That’s what I think should happen. That would be the best thing to happen.’

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2024-06-12T22:00:22Z dg43tfdfdgfd