The head of Scotland’s largest energy firm has said the debate around nationalising the UK’s energy supplier is “distracting” from the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

ScottishPower chief executive Keith Anderson said Labour promises to take back control of the Britain’s energy network meant “losing focus” on the issue of tackling the climate emergency.

Mr Anderson was responding to comments made by Glasgow North East Labour candidate Paul Sweeney as part of a climate hustings organised by the firm with WWF and The Herald.

The event, hosted by journalist Bernard Ponsonby at ScottishPower’s headquarters in Glasgow, featured representatives from the five main Scottish parties taking questions from an audience of around 200 people.

Mr Sweeney said 2050 under a Labour government would involve further state intervention planning in the economy, describing it as one in which “the absurdity of having to search around for different gas and electricity bills” would be over and the “gas board and electric board” returned.

He added: “It is one intergrated system, let’s extend public ownership and democratic ownership across our economy.” But speaking after the event, Mr Anderson warned the debate meant parties were “losing focus” on the climate emergency.

He said: “We think the target to get to 2050 is incredibly challenging. We want to focus on that.”

“Let’s focus on tackling climate change, let’s focus on the drive to get the electrification of transport and the heating system, that’s a much better thing for us all to debate rather than focus on who owns what bits of asset in the ground.

“That becomes a distraction, it slows us all down, it takes focus off the real issue, so we would far rather have a debate and a conversation about how we tackle climate change.”

He added: “To us, that is far more relevant and far more important than worrying and arguing about who is going to spend what buying what.”

Scottish Labour’s manifesto calls for the creation of a new ‘National Energy Agency’ to own and maintain the national grid infrastructure, with a Scotland-specific operator responsible for decarbonising electricity and heat.

In a thorny debate, participants clashed on issues including agriculture, controversy surrounding onshore wind and the Scottish Government’s record on tree planting among a host of other topics.

The event, which was streamed live on The Herald’s Facebook page, aimed to explore where the parties stood on environmental issues ahead of the December 12 vote. Scottish Greens representative Mags Hall took aim at the hypocrisy of the SNP, represented by the party’s Westminster spokesperson on transport, infrastructure and energy Alan Brown, over their abstention from voting on Heathrow expansion and their willingness to remain a part of Nato while calling for the removal of Trident nuclear submarine from Scottish waters.

In a feisty exchange, Greens researcher Ms Hall criticised Mr Brown for the SNP stepping away from the vote on the expansion of the airport, yet allowing Heathrow bosses to sponsor a “free bar” at the party’s Spring conference.

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene came under fire for asserting Brexit would not have an adverse impact on the climate emergency, while Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur took aim at the “dangerous view” that incremental changes could not help in the fight against climate change.