The SNP has been accused of spreading ‘misinformation’ over its key election claim that Labour’s plans for the North Sea oil industry could cost 100,000 Scottish jobs. 

Leading SNP politicians have repeatedly used the claim to attack Keir Starmer’s policy of increasing levies on, and abolishing tax incentives for, energy companies operating in the North Sea.

Earlier this week, John Swinney compared the potential impact of Labour’s pledges to deindustrialisation under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and claimed they could create an “industrial wasteland” in the north east of Scotland.

The 100,000 figure is based on estimates by the investment bank, Stifel.

But Stifel’s analysis – set out in two reports seen by The Ferret, one written in June 2023 and the other in May of this year – actually says that job losses could take place across the “UK North Sea” sector and not just in Scotland. Stifel confirmed to The Ferret that its research did not say where job losses could fall.

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According to Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), the trade body for the North Sea industry, just under half –- around 90,000–- of the nearly 220,000 jobs supported by the UK oil and gas sector are in Scotland.

Campaigners and experts have accused politicians in Scotland of “bowing to industry lobbying tactics” and using oil workers’ livelihoods as a “political football.”

“Exaggeration and misinformation helps no one, particularly when what is urgently needed is a clear-eyed conversation about how to ensure that Scottish workers benefit from the transition away from oil and gas,” Tessa Khan of the climate advocacy group, Uplift, argued.

The SNP said it would oppose Labour’s “dangerous proposals “ and put “Scottish jobs and Scotland’s interests first”. In its response to The Ferret, the party incorrectly attributed the 100,000 jobs figure to Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, rather than Stifel.

John Swinney compared the potential impact of Labour’s pledges to deindustrialisation under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980sJohn Swinney compared the potential impact of Labour’s pledges to deindustrialisation under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s (Image: PA)

The estimate of 100,000 jobs losses forms a core part of the SNP’s general election messaging. Polls suggest that the SNP could lose more than half of its 43 Westminster seats to Labour on 4 July, with the bulk of Labour’s gains being made in the Central Belt. The SNP is fighting to keep its suite of constituencies in Aberdeenshire and the North East, where many of Scotland’s oil and gas jobs are located.

The claim first appeared in February this year after the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) sent a letter, citing Stifel’s figures, to Keir Starmer warning that his plans could put 100,000 jobs at risk across the UK. 

At first minister’s questions on 22 February 2024, Humza Yousaf highlighted “industry” estimates which he claimed showed Labour’s plans risked “100,000 jobs in the north east.” 

On 31 May, SNP deputy first minister Kate Forbes told BBC Breakfast that “independent experts” had “suggested Labour’s plans would perhaps jeopardise 100,000 jobs in the north east of Scotland.”

Kate ForbesKate Forbes (Image: Jane Barlow/PA)

The claim has also been made by other SNP figures – including Westminster leader Stephen Flynn – and has featured twice on the party’s official X profile, including at the end of May.  

Labour has pledged to increase the Energy Profits Levy – the windfall tax on oil and gas introduced at the height of the cost of living crisis – to 78 per cent from its current rate of 75 per cent and to abolish oil and gas tax breaks introduced by Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Spring of 2022. 

According to Labour, these reforms will generate upward of £10bn in revenue for the UK Treasury over the coming years. Starmer has said that this money will be invested in GB Energy, which Labour describes as a publicly-owned energy company – although there has been some confusion about the policy in recent weeks. 

Stifel is critical of the potential impact of Labour’s tax proposals on investment in the North Sea. The firm argues that if the oil and gas industry is forced into “accelerated decline” – meaning a complete end to “future investment in the development and production of North Sea fields” – then 100,000 jobs could be lost across the UK as early as 2029.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of UniteSharon Graham, general secretary of Unite (Image: Jacob King/PA)

Separate assessments by OEUK – whose membership includes major UK fossil fuel firms – and Unite the union have produced lower job loss estimates. 

In February, OEUK chief executive David Whitehouse warned that Labour’s plans could eliminate 42,000 jobs between now and 2030. 

Meanwhile, on 19 May, Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, said that £6.6bn of investment would be needed to save 30,000 Scottish jobs in the energy sector by the end of the decade.

Last year, research found that the number of people employed in the British oil and gas sector had halved over the past decade, from 441,000 in 2013 to 214,000 in 2023. 

Keir Starmer in GlasgowKeir Starmer in Glasgow (Image: PA)

According to the UK Committee on Climate Change, the UK Government’s independent climate advisory body, employment rates in oil and gas will continue to decline in the coming years as remaining reserves become harder and more expensive to access and more of the extraction work becomes automated.  

In its 2023 draft energy strategy and just transition plan, the Scottish Government acknowledged that while “higher prices [and] tax incentives” could make marginal North Sea fields more attractive to investors, they would not change the basin’s “overall trend” towards decline.  

The draft plan proposed introducing a “presumption against” new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. There is speculation that the SNP will ditch this position when the final version of its energy strategy is published later in the summer. 

If it wins the UK general election in July, Labour has said it will honour existing oil and gas licences but not issue new ones. 

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Last year, researchers at Robert Gordon University estimated that 95,000 British jobs could go if the transition away from oil and gas in the North Sea was mismanaged, meaning that investment in currently productive fields and new green technology stalled. At most, around half of those job losses would be in Scotland, the researchers said – although a well-managed transition could create jobs. 

Stifel has ties to the oil and gas sector.

In its two reports, the firm notes that it “seeks to do business” with companies operating in the North Sea and that investors should therefore “be aware that the firm may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity” of its analysis. 

Its 2024 report goes on to note that “Stifel or an affiliate expects to receive or intends to seek compensation for investment banking services from Serica Energy plc, Ithaca Energy plc and Harbour Energy plc in the next three months.” Serica, Ithaca, and Harbour all have holdings in the North Sea. 

(Image: NQ)

Stifel is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. Its US wealth management business has at least £900m invested in companies – including Shell, BP, and Exxon Mobil – involved in drilling in the waters around the UK, according to Ferret analysis of US regulatory filings. 

In an exchange with The Ferret, a Stifel employee said that the company’s American wealth management division was “quite separate” from its UK investment banking division, which produced the jobs report.. 

Labour’s plans have prompted fierce opposition from the sector, with industry leaders warning they could amount to an effective ban on North Sea production.

In its letter to Starmer, the Aberdeen chamber of commerce argued that Labour’s policy would cause “redundancies on a scale not seen in this country since the pit closures of the 1980s.”

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The SNP has seized on these warnings. 

In February, then-first minister Humza Yousaf delivered a speech in Aberdeen that set out the SNP’s opposition to Labour’s “aggressive” position on oil and gas. The SNP would not allow Labour to let Scottish industry “go the way that coal and mining towns went under Thatcher,” Yousaf said.

Since then, the parallel with Thatcher-era deindustrialisation has become increasingly central to the SNP’s rhetoric. 

However, Dr. Ewan Gibbs, an expert on Scotland’s industrial history at Glasgow University, described the comparison as “crass and superficial.”

Humza YousafHumza Yousaf (Image: Newsquest)

Dr. Gibbs told The Ferret that the North Sea was already in the “throes of long-term employment decline” caused by technological change and “the geological exhaustion of productive fields.” 

“That trend is unlikely to change” regardless of the tax regime implemented by the next UK government, he said.

Scotland is estimated to have lost a fifth of its manufacturing jobs during the first Thatcher government, which ran from 1979 to 1983. By the mid-1980s, one in six Scottish adults of working age was unemployed. Today, Scotland’s 90,000 oil and gas workers represent less than four percent of the country’s 2.45 million pay-rolled employees.

Tessa Khan, Uplift’s executive director, also argued that the North Sea is an “ageing basin with declining reserves that are expensive to extract.” 

Khan said: “It is increasingly clear, and frankly shocking, that some politicians are willing to use people’s livelihoods as a political football to score points against their opponents in this election.” 

Miriam Brett, co-director of the think-tank Future Economy Scotland, said the SNP’s job loss claim was “built on shaky foundations.” 

She said that the UK and Scottish governments needed to cooperate in order to deliver a just transition. 

Brett added: “Done well, the transition to net zero has the potential to create more jobs than will be lost, but we urgently need commitments from all political parties to deliver this.” 

Ian MurrayIan Murray (Image: PA)

Speaking to The Ferret, Ian Murray, Labour shadow secretary of state for Scotland, said that oil and gas would remain “vital” to the Scottish economy “for decades to come.” 

“Rather than cosy up to oil and gas giants, this is an area on which the UK Government and Scottish Government can and should work together to harness our world-class workforce and protect energy jobs,” he said. 

SNP energy spokesperson, Dave Doogan, said: “The Labour Party’s reckless plans for the north east have rightly been slammed by trade unions and industry experts, with Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce estimating that 100,000 jobs and £30bn of investment at risk – the SNP oppose these dangerous proposals and stand to put Scottish jobs and Scotland’s interests first.

"Labour’s plan will mean redundancies on an industrial scale, so it's time Starmer looked workers in the eye and came clean about the devastation his party will inflict upon Scottish jobs.”