The future of the North Sea oil industry has dominated clashes at Holyrood, with the First Minister urging opposition leaders to give their support to SNP proposals to help the industry in the wake of falling prices.
Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all pressed Nicola Sturgeon on the impact that prices, which have now dropped below 50 US dollars (£32) a barrel, would have on both the industry and the country.
Ms Sturgeon called for an end to “petty political point-scoring” at the same time as she criticised Labour MPs for backing Tory plans for a further round of austerity cuts in a vote at Westminster earlier this week.
The SNP leader announced the creation of a special employment taskforce to help the oil industry during a visit to Aberdeen yesterday.
She said: “If we can get on to the serious issue of the jobs concern in the North Sea, it’s because there is a really serious concern that yesterday I established a jobs taskforce, to work to maintain employment levels in the North Sea, to give practical assistances to those who are faced with prospect of redundancy and to give a guarantee to every apprentice working in the oil and gas sector of continuing employment or training.
“That’s the kind of practical help people want from the Scottish Government, not petty political point-scoring like we’re getting from Labour.”
Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale accused the First Minister of failing to act quickly enough when prices started to tumble
She told MSPs that Holyrood energy minister Fergus Ewing has described the “oil crisis as the most serious jobs situation Scotland has faced in living memory”, adding that Ms Sturgeon had said during her visit to Aberdeen that “jobs were under threat”.
The Labour MSP said: “It begs the question why the First Minister took so long to find Aberdeen on a map.”
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Scottish Government oil and gas bulletins which predicted tax revenues from the North Sea had been used by ministers before the independence referendum to predict a second boom for the industry.
“We all wish that was true but it is not, and anyone who questioned it was shouted down,” she said.
“This matters because the First Minister has confirmed again today that after the general election (the Scottish Government) wants to get rid of the block grant and use oil to pay for Scotland’s schools and hospitals.”
She went on: “When it comes to oil, this Government has inflated figures for political ends, its response (to the crisis) has been insufficient and, frankly, I would suggest anything but rapid.
“So, yes, let’s all work together on short-term issues, but when there is an industry in crisis, when jobs are being lost, when the Governor of the Bank of England says Scotland’s spending is being protected from such a crash, it’s only damaging to talk of ripping the industry out of its current UK framework.”
Ms Davidson asked if the Government planned to publish further North Sea revenue predictions.
Ms Sturgeon responded: “We will publish an oil and gas bulletin in due course.
“But in order to predict tax revenues from the North Sea, you have to know what the tax rates that apply to the North Sea are going to be.
“The UK Government hasn’t yet told us what the position is going to be on the supplementary charge, or on an investment allowance or on exploration tax credits, so if Ruth Davidson wants to join with me in calling today on the Prime Minister, on the Chancellor, on the Energy Secretary to stop prevaricating and introduce the tax changes now that the industry is crying out for I would very much welcome her support.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called on UK Government agencies to be included in the new taskforce.
“Working in partnership is essential,” he said.
“I was pleased to see the establishment of the Scottish Government’s taskforce yesterday, but was surprised that UK bodies such as Jobcentre Plus, and the Department of Energy and Department of Business were excluded.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “On the issue of the membership of the taskforce, nobody is being excluded.
“I want to make sure that we work with all interested parties and everybody who has a contribution to make.