Cabinet secretary for the economy Keith Brown has said an independent Scotland could be more “proactive” in helping the struggling North Sea oil and gas industry.
The SNP MSP made the comment on a visit to Aberdeen earlier today with energy minister Paul Wheelhouse to meet leading figures from the struggling offshore sector.
But Mr Brown maintained that the recovery of North Sea oil would depend on the international market.
Tens of thousands of jobs have been cut and hundreds of companies worldwide have been forced to cut costs over the last two years since oil prices started to plunge.
In response to questions on how a possible Brexit sparking a second independence referendum would affect any long-term recovery, Mr Brown initially claimed that the nationalists were not the ones repeatedly raising the topic of breaking the union.
He said: “In relation to a second independence referendum, every time I hear it, it’s mentioned by others – in particular Conservatives. So I think maybe they can have a look at answering the question.”
But when pushed for a response, Mr Brown said the offshore industry – supported by the Scottish Government – was taking the necessary actions to be the main “agent of change” in overcoming the challenges posed by slumped oil prices.
And he maintained that the recovery of the North Sea – which posted a loss for the first time on record this year – would hinge upon what happened on a global level.
The MSP said: “I would think someone hugely experienced in the North Sea oil industry and the oil industry globally will tell you these things are not about how Scotland governs itself.
“These things are about world oil price, fluctuations in that price, the oversupply of oil in the market and the lowered demand for example from China.
“I would say that a Scottish Government responsible for those things could be more proactive, be more responsive, more quickly.
“But the simple fact is, and it follows on from the point I’ve just made about how the industry sees itself as being the main agent for change in relation to some of the things that have to happen – it will be things determined by the international oil price, which is absolutely crucial to what happens here in the north-east.”
Brown added: “It will be down to things like demand in China as well. That’s what we are focussing on. It’s what the industry is focussing on.
“They are not talking about referendums, they are talking about what they can do to address the challenges they face.
“There’s also a great deal of positivity around this. The industry sees good times ahead if they can get through these challenges.” Mr Brown also used his visit to the north-east to criticise the UK Government’s lack of progress on commitments made in the March budget.
During the budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said he was willing to consider proposals to use the UK Guarantees Scheme – a fund designed to kickstart crucial infrastructure projects – to secure new investment in strategically important North Sea assets.
But Mr Brown said movement on the this had “not yet been forthcoming”.
He said: “We want to have the economic levers in Scotland but that’s not currently the situation.
“What we are concentrating on and what a number of members of the industry have told us is, the measures taken by the UK Government in particular in relation to loan guarantees are welcome but they are not happening.”
As a consequence, the SNP minister vowed to write to Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Hands MP, to try and push for more help with the industry.