This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Is the SNP's rather ambiguous position on North Sea oil and gas really sustainable in a general election campaign when voters want to know exactly what parties stand for when choosing who they give their support to?

Whether the SNP support or are opposed to new developments in the sector is a question journalists and opposition parties have been asking over the past few days. However, to date, no unequivocal answers have been given.

Despite energy policy being reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government's draft position is a "presumption against" new fossil fuel developments being given the green light – a position then net zero secretary Michael Matheson set out under Ms Sturgeon's administration in January last year.

Cabinet secretary for net zero Mairi McAllan was due to publish the new energy strategy this month but rules around government policy announcements ahead of an election have meant the document won't come out until after polling day on July 4.

However, there is no rule against a party setting out its position.

First Minister John Swinney seemed to suggest on Sunday that his government may be reviewing its existing policy position which is to oppose new exploration licences.

He told the Mail on Sunday during a visit to Aberdeen last weekend that there is an "exploration" of the party's policy.

"I want the Scottish Government to work closely and carefully with the oil and gas sector to ensure its sustainability," he said.

"We need the oil and gas sector to contribute to the transition to net zero, so it has to be strong enough and robust enough to do that. In addition to that, I want to make sure that the sector is able to contribute to the objectives of energy security that we've set out in our policy programme. It's an exploration of our position, that's how I would describe it."

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Mr Swinney was asked again about the SNP's position which backs a "presumption" against new licences at the party's launch of its general election in Glasgow last Sunday.

Again he gave an answer which did not yield much clarity.

Mr Swinney said: "There are a whole range of different government publications that I committed to publish before the summer recess which I am not going to be able to publish because of the restrictions in the pre-election guidance that comes into place.

"Documents such as the energy strategy will not be able to be published."

He added: "I'm interested in achieving net zero but I'm also interested in doing that in a way that does not cause economic damage to the economy of Scotland, particularly to the north-east of Scotland.

"So that has to be a managed transition to ensure that we undertake that transition as effectively as we possibly can, minimising our economic damage as a consequence of a transition that has got to be made."

The matter came up again during the first televised leaders debate of the campaign on Monday night with Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross asking Mr Swinney repeatedly to give a 'yes or no' answer on whether he was in favour of new oil and gas developments in the North Sea.

The Herald:
Again, Mr Swinney refused to give such a direct answer. Instead he said he would want there to be a "climate compatibility test on every single decision we take in relation to the oil and gas sector".

Meanwhile, out on the campaign trail in Linlithgow, West Lothian, today Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes said she wasn't against new licences and insisted her party is "clear" on its strategy.

However, while saying she was not against new developments, she added they would have to meet "climate compatibility tests" to be supported by the Scottish Government, suggesting the party was reconsidering abandoning its policy of a presumption against new licences.

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The Scottish Greens – who are opposed to new North Sea exploration – have written this week to Mr Swinney to seek clarity.

The rationale for the SNP's rather ambiguous position may well be to do with competing views in the party on what the position should actually be.

It's also likely related to the electoral challenge the party faces in fighting off threats from different rivals in different parts of Scotland.

For instance, in the north east of Scotland – where thousands of voters are employed in the oil and gas sector – the SNP wants to oust the Tories from seats and make sure the rival party doesn't make any gains. Hence the party is anxious not to give the impression they will be sticking to the position opposing new developments.

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On the other hand, though, across the central belt the SNP face a challenge from Labour – which is opposed to new licences – and don't want voters motivated by environmental concerns drifting off to support Labour or the Greens if they do abandon their existing position of opposing new licences.

It is undoubtedly a tricky matter for the SNP to negotiate.

But there's a bigger danger for the party.

Voters should be able to expect a clear answer from the SNP on the matter. A position that is either for or against new licences backed up by the reasons why.

The problem at the moment is that the position seems so open to interpretation people don't actually know what the party stands. The impression is given of the party being rather uncertain over the issue – one of major importance to the Scottish economy and the wider world.

And that lack of conviction on a policy could prove off putting to voters as they head to the polls.