PA Anas Sarwar, John Swinney, Colin Mackay, Douglas Ross and Alex Cole-Hamilton PA

Anas Sarwar, John Swinney, Douglas Ross and Alex Cole-Hamilton took part in the STV debate in Glasgow

Scottish political leaders have gone head to head over the future of the North Sea oil and gas industry in the first debate of the general election.

First minister and SNP leader John Swinney warned a failure to deliver a “just transition” could create an “industrial wasteland” in north east Scotland – but refused to say if he supported a presumption against new licences.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said his party would help create 69,000 new jobs, while for the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross said neither the SNP nor Labour would protect the industry.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Scottish and UK governments had failed to make progress on a fair transition away from fossil fuels.

Getty Images First Minister John Swinney Getty Images

First Minister John Swinney criticised Labour’s energy plans

The party leaders made the comments during an STV election debate in Glasgow.

In an exchange where he criticised the Labour position on oil and gas, Mr Swinney said there had to be a managed transition to net zero, likening a failure to do so to the policies of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

“What Mrs Thatcher did when she was in power was she created an industrial wasteland in central Scotland and we’re still picking up the pieces,” he said.

The first minister warned Mr Sarwar that his party would “do exactly the same to the north east of Scotland”.

Pressed on whether he would support the granting of new licences for oil and gas developments in the North Sea, Mr Swinney refused to give either a yes or no answer.

Instead he said he wanted a “climate compatibility test on every single decision we take in relation to the oil and gas sector”.

‘Broken promises’

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross interjected, saying: “That’s a no, John Swinney and the SNP are against new oil and gas licences.”

He also accused Labour of having “dangerous plans” for the industry.

The Scottish Tory leader, who is standing down as an MP at the election, referenced a report from the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

It criticised SNP and Conservative energy policies but said Labour could make the situation “even worse” by extending the Tories’ windfall tax on oil and gas profits and removing some tax breaks for investment.

Mr Sarwar said his party’s energy strategy would create 69,000 jobs in Scotland, including 53,000 roles supported by GB Energy – a publicly-owned energy generation company he said would be headquartered in Scotland.

“This is good for Aberdeen, good for the North East, good for Scotland and good for the UK,” he said.

He accused both the SNP and Tory government of “broken promises” on energy.

Getty Images north sea oil rig Getty Images

The future of the oil and gas industry was debated by party leaders

The Scottish Labour leader also pledged his party would “step and put our money where our mouth is” at Grangemouth, where the oil refinery is to be scheduled to be closed, by creating an energy transition hub at the site.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the SNP and Conservative governments had been in power for “far too long”.

“These parties have been bereft of ideas, they’ve not driven down reliance on fossil fuels and they’ve not taken the steps to bring about that just transition,” he said.

The publication of the Scottish government’s updated energy strategy, which would set out its policy on new oil and gas licences, has been delayed due to the general election.

BBC Scotland will host an election debate on 11 June. The Debate Night special will feature the same four parties as the STV debate, as well as the Scottish Greens.

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