The general secretary of the GMB Union has accused the Scottish National Party (SNP) of hypocrisy in its approach to the oil and gas industry.
Gary Smith gave a rousing defence of the importance of continuing oil and gas investments – and took aim at a variety of political parties.
The “hypocrisy of the SNP and the Scottish government on energy is staggering”, Smith said. “There’s been a huge volte face on oil and gas,” he continued, while criticising the lack of progress in delivering a just energy transition.
“You cannot turn an industry off and turn it on again. If you turn off oil and gas, it’s not coming back – and those skills will not come backIf you turn off oil and gas, it’s not coming back – and those skills will not come back.”
The SNP has in the past said Scotland could be the Saudi Arabia of renewables, but progress has been lacking.
“The just transition commission has been running for years. The commission has consumed more buffets at lunch time than they have created jobs. The jobs in the Scottish energy transition are all being done halfway round the world.”
The union is a “critical friend” of the Labour Party, Smith continued, “but I should say the Conservative Party has been a disaster. We will never slavishly follow a political party.”
Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan has some “bold and imaginative” points, he said, although criticising the move away from hydrocarbons.
“When we deindustrialised under Thatcher, we had offshore oil and gas. That absorbed a lot of the economic impact, it offered jobs. My challenge now is where’s your Aberdeen for renewables?”
Smith was talking at the Hydrogen for Life conference in London. The hydrogen sector – and carbon capture and storage (CCS) – are both areas the union official was positive about.
“If the UK has a strategic advantage” it is in those two areas, he said. “My worry is that we surrender that advantage in the same way we did with nuclear and with wind.”
There is a chance that hydrogen could create jobs, export revenues and employment opportunities in the way that oil and gas has, Smith said. “It’s a unique opportunity for this country and one we have to seize.”
Amid a shift to a new industry, though, the official said that communities “were sick” of hearing about opportunities that never materialised.
“I often say that if you want a job in renewables, get a job in the City of London,” the union official said. “Hydrogen is an opportunity to develop manufacturing, let’s not surrender that.”
Investment from companies will play a part, Smith continued, but the government must also provide clarity.