FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has found how hard it can be to succeed in her efforts to satisfy the green lobby even as she jeopardises investment in the country’s key oil and gas industry.

Following weeks of vocal campaigning by groups such as Greenpeace, Ms Sturgeon said the UK Government should not approve plans to develop the giant Cambo find off Shetland, which were submitted by Shell and Siccar Point Energy.

The move came after Ms Sturgeon had spent weeks sitting on the fence by calling for the UK Government to reassess the Cambo licence without saying it should block the proposed development.

The change in Ms Sturgeon’s position looked like a crude attempt to pander to greens in the wake of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, where she posed for pictures with celebrity campaigner Greta Thunberg. The Scottish Green party supports the SNP’s efforts to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK.

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For all her bluster about independence, Ms Sturgeon may well be glad that it is for the UK Government to make the decisions about Cambo. Approval for the plan could play in to the narrative of Scotland being a progressive force that is being held back by being part of the UK.

Her shift on Cambo suggests she has calculated that there are more votes to be had from opposing oil and gas developments than there are from standing up for an industry that employs 100,000 in Scotland.

The change of tack was all the more striking given that only seven years ago Ms Sturgeon fought the independence campaign alongside Alex Salmond on the promise that the North Sea industry would fuel a prosperous future for Scotland.

Predictably Greenpeace was delighted by the Cambo announcement.

It said: “We welcome the First Minister showing leadership, listening to the science and saying no to the Cambo oil field, which has no place in the transition to Scotland’s low carbon future.”

The organisation then rounded on Ms Sturgeon’s government after it said the introduction of the much-vaunted bottle return scheme to cut waste would be delayed. Ironically, the news was announced by one of the two Scottish Green MSPs that were invited to join the government under the co-operation agreement with the SNP signed in August.

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Lorna Slater, the Scottish Government’s Circular Economy Minister, said the bottle return scheme would not be introduced next year after all, without offering any indication of how long the delay would last.

Ms Slater blamed Brexit, the UK Government and Covid-19 for the Scottish Government’s failure to deliver on want she described as a flagship scheme.

However, Greenpeace was not impressed.

The organisation’s senior plastics campaigner, Nina Schrank, lamented: “This shambolic delay to the long awaited deposit return scheme is embarrassing for a government which loves to shout about its green credentials. They haven’t even given a clear timeline for any delay, which might even put the future of this vital scheme into doubt.”

Noting that every year of delay means millions more bottles being dumped or burned, Ms Schrank then twisted the knife.

“The public shouldn’t let the Cambo announcement … significant as it was, hide the fact that this Scottish government is delaying urgently needed environmental action once again,” she observed. “Deposit return schemes work, that’s been proven elsewhere, so why on earth is the Scottish government choosing to delay?”

The delay provides another example of the Scottish Government struggling to deliver on bold policy plans which it appears to find easy to dream up.

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In September the auditor general Stephen Boyle warned Scotland “remains riven by inequalities” as he criticised a “major implementation gap between policy ambitions and delivery on the ground”.

Last month Mr Boyle issued a scathing report about the Crofting Commission, which is meant to regulate the sector and promote the interests of croft communities.

“Crofting is an integral part of life in the Highlands and Islands,” said Mr Boyle.“But the leadership and governance of the Crofting Commission is currently falling below the standards expected of a public body.”

He added: “It is vitally important that all parties, including the Scottish Government’s sponsor division, work closely together to develop better relationships so that the Commission can provide effective oversight of the services provided to crofting communities.”

In response Malcolm Mathieson, Convenor of the Crofting Commission said: “As an organisation we recognise that the leadership and governance did not meet the standards expected of a public body, whilst it is important to recognise the unprecedented pressures and exceptional circumstances that we found ourselves in during the initial phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are confident that we have improved and transformed the organisation to ensure we meet the challenges of the future.”

As a non-departmental public body, the commission operates independently of the Scottish Government on a day-to-day basis. However, the Government, which loves to be seen as a champion of sustainable living, is ultimately responsible for it.

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The problems the Government has faced delivering on what are seen as priorities raise serious concerns about whether it can support the transition to a cleaner energy system, which is considered essential.

When the deal with the Scottish Greens was announced, the Government made lots of noise about the fact it was launching a £500m, 10-year, Just Transition Fund for the North East.

In September, Friends of the Earth Scotland noted it was not clear what the £500m would be spent on. It said: “A fund to support the North East is important, however there is no indication of how Just Transition will be funded elsewhere.”

Writing in The Herald this week, Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick said Ms Sturgeon’s Cambo announcement “felt like opportunism masquerading as leadership, with the First Minister succumbing to the populist view that we can just erase oil and gas from our energy mix and carry on as normal”.

He added: “Be in no doubt, this is a devastating statement for the 100,000-plus people employed in the oil and gas industry.”

North Sea industry leaders insist firms working in the area can play a vital role in supporting the development of renewables while meeting demand for oil and gas. This is set to remain strong for years.

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A ban on developments like Cambo will only increase Scotland’s reliance on oil and gas imports while depriving the supply chain of badly-needed work. Factor in differences in production methods and transport considerations and the world may have to deal with more emissions in total.

In recent days, significant players have underlined that they are ready to invest in clean energy and oil and gas developments in the North Sea with the right encouragement.

Last week Neptune Energy noted it was considering developing the Pegasus West gas find off England. The company is currently developing the Seagull field east of Aberdeen with BP and Japex, and hunting for new finds off Norway.

It is also working on plans for a carbon capture and storage cluster which would be linked to North Sea fields.

With no sign that the long-awaited boom in renewables sector employment is set to materialise, the Scottish Government is threatening jobs the country does have with a stance that could scare off oil and gas firms that could fund valuable North Sea developments. Some look set to focus on the gas-rich waters off England, in which the likes of Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy have made clear they see opportunities.