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Scottish Election: North-east MSPs set out vision for energy transition

Grant thornton roundtable
The transition from oil and gas to renewables was on the agenda at the roundtable.

The north-east’s new cohort of MSPs have set out their vision for the region, with the energy transition and securing oil and gas jobs among the biggest issues.

Two days after the country headed to the polls, the final results for the 2021 Scottish Parliament Election were declared on Saturday night.

The SNP, led by Nicola Sturgeon, secured a fourth straight term in government with 64 seats, although they fell one short of securing an overall majority.

It was a successful election for the Greens who added two more MSPs to their ranks, including one in the North East for the first time in more than a decade, taking their total count to eight.

Douglas Ross’ Conservatives remain unchanged with 31 MSPs, while Labour lost two seats, meaning they now have 22 representatives in Holyrood.

The Liberal Democrats dropped from five to just four MSPs, losing their one list seat in the North East.

After a torrid year for oil and gas, the sector will be looking for support from the new Scottish Government as it balances recovery from the latest downturn with the need to decarbonise.

Nowhere will this be more pertinent that in the north-east of Scotland, which, due to its oil and gas heritage, has borne the brunt of much of the recent hardship.

“The main priority is making sure we don’t lose any more jobs”

In Aberdeenshire East, SNP candidate Gillian Martin, who retained her seat after securing more than 18,000 votes, has pledged to work to stop the tide of oil and gas redundancies.

Thousands of jobs have been lost in the industry in the last year after the commodity price nosedived, partly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In response, politicians have called for a ‘green recovery’, to help the sector bounce back while also putting a requirement on it to move away from hydrocarbons.

Entwined with that is a ‘just transition’, which will allow oil and gas workers to be part of the future low carbon economy.

Ms Martin said: “The main priority is making sure we don’t lose any more jobs, as much as possible. We have to have Aberdeenshire and the north-east at the heart of green recovery.

“I come from a family from an industrial area, my parents are from Clydebank and there was no just transition for the people that worked in John Brown’s shipyards, so it’s a real personal mission of mine to make sure the hard-working people in the north-east who relied on oil and gas for so many years are not left behind.”

The SNP enjoyed a number of other triumphs in the north-east, with long-standing Aberdeen city councillor Jackie Dunbar being voted in as the new representative for Aberdeen Donside.

Ms Dunbar has stressed the need for the region to “play a leading role” in the energy transition in order to “create new jobs” in the region.

She added: “I will fight tooth and nail for my constituents, many of whom work in the sector, to ensure Aberdeen receives the support it requires.

“Our industry has given so much to the Treasury over the years so we now need to see them give back and support our energy sector at its time of need.”

“We need to work to attract employers to the north-east”

The Conservatives retained the hotly contested Aberdeenshire West seat – the only north-east constituency the SNP failed to win – with Alexander Burnett bagging more than 19,000 votes.

A further four Tory MSPs, elected via the list system, will also be representing the region in Holyrood.

One of them is Tess White who has worked in the oil and gas sector for a number of years, including as a board director at Shell Renewables, vice president at Shell International and HR director at Centrica.

She has a particular focus on renewables and new energies, including wind solar and hydrogen.

Ms White said: “We need to work to attract employers to the north-east. Aberdeen was the powerhouse of oil and gas but it’s changing and employers are moving out – we want to reverse that.

“There needs to be a dramatic shift. We need to make sure there are jobs and to provide proper skills training – we’ve talked about having £500 a year grants to skill-up.”

One of those who retained their place in Holyrood is Conservative MSP Liam Kerr, who got in on the North East list.

Speaking over the weekend, he took issue with the Green’s proposed oil and gas policies, which include stopping public investment in carbon capture and storage, an end to new exploration licences and acing subsidies for North Sea companies.

He said: “We’ve all seen the oil and gas issues over the last few years. There were some concerning things that emerged during this campaign, especially from the Green party. We mustn’t go down that route – this is about jobs, the economy and the north-east moving forward together to what will be a very bright future.”

“It’s a signal that people in the north-east are aware of the huge change that we need to make”

For the first time since the 2003 Scottish Parliament vote, the North East returned a Green MSP, with Maggie Chapman being election as a regional representative.

Ms Chapman, who was co-convener of the Scottish Greens from November 2013 to August 2019 and is the current rector at Aberdeen University, described the win as a “breakthrough”.

She said: “It’s a little bit daunting, I’m sure there will be other feelings that will come through in the coming days.

“But it’s a signal that people in the north-east are aware of the huge change that we need to make, and they liked what the Greens were putting forward in our manifesto.

“Having positivity around the energy transition, people’s jobs, people who work in care, and working to maximise the opportunities of people in a whole range of different industries and careers.”

She also said she was proud to be the region’s first Green MSP since 2007, when Shiona Baird left Holyrood following a failed re-election bid.

Ms Chapman added: “I’m very very pleased that the Scottish Greens have made a breakthrough again in the north-east, especially given its energy industry.

“I am really humbled by the support the Greens have achieved, and I think that’s a testament to our positive, hope-filled campaign to give people a positive vision of the future to support.”

For a full roundup of the Scottish Election, click here.

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