The Scottish Government seems to have decided there is political mileage in rekindling its love for the North Sea oil and gas industry as official figures cast fresh doubt on claims that a green bonanza is in prospect.

In a week dominated by the furore over speaker Lindsay Hoyle’s treatment of the party at Westminster, SNP leader Humza Yousaf stood accused of shameless hypocrisy after positioning himself as a defender of the North Sea oil industry.

In his guise as first minister Mr Yousaf savaged Labour for announcing plans to increase the windfall tax rate on North Sea firms, which industry leaders warn could put billions of pounds of investment at risk.

Echoing claims that the policy could cost thousands of jobs, Mr Yousaf told Holyrood that Labour planned to raid the north east energy industry to pay for nuclear power plants in England.

Conservative MSP Douglas Lumsden was probably not alone in feeling that it was a bit rich for Mr Yousaf to portray himself as the defender of the oil industry. In September the first minister expressed disappointment that the UK Government approved the Rosebank oil field development. The firm leading on the development, Equinor, reckons Rosebank could support 1,600 jobs in the construction phase and 450 when it becomes operational.

“He must think the people of the North East are buttoned up the back,” Mr Lumsden told MSPs regarding Mr Yousaf’s comments last week.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf's £500m green jobs plan looks half-baked

It should be remembered that in the race to succeed former first minister Nicola Sturgeon Mr Yousaf positioned himself as the continuity candidate.

Ms Sturgeon opposed the Cambo oilfield development and presided over the development of an energy strategy which said there should be a presumption against new exploration in the North Sea. The strategy was released in draft form in January last year following delays.

Ms Sturgeon announced her resignation a month later after more than eight years in post.

Before taking over the job from Alex Salmond in 2014 Ms Sturgeon served as his deputy in that year’s independence campaign, in which the SNP claimed oil and gas revenues would make Scotland rich.

She then appeared to decide it was expedient to ditch the SNP’s longstanding attachment to the oil and gas industry in order to curry favour with the greens it is relying on to keep the campaign going.

Since taking charge, Mr Yousaf has followed Ms Sturgeon’s line and rehearsed claims that renewables will power Scotland to prosperity while reducing its dependence on emissions-intensive fossil fuels.

The claim has long looked questionable given the fact that hefty investment in windfarms and the like has generated limited economic benefit to date. Green jobs remain in relatively short supply.

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As he tried to breathe fresh life into the independence campaign, in January, Mr Yousaf said “extraordinary resources such as renewable energy” could help the country heal the scars resulting from decades of failed Westminster economic policy.

In the same speech Mr Yousaf said that rather than shouting independence ever louder he would engage in a deliberative evidence-based process.

But to help make his case Mr Yousaf relied on figures on jobs that had been published with a clear health warning.

He said: “The total output supported by the renewable energy sector in Scotland nearly doubled to £10.1 bn, and total full-time employment increased from 27,000 to 42,000 over the last year.”

The figures actually cover employment levels in 2021 and 2020. They come from an analysis of Office for National Statistics data completed by specialists at Strathclyde university’s Fraser of Allander Institute who noted the findings were accompanied by a “moderately large” margin of error. They added: “We caution against overinterpretation of the results in this report.”

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Some would say the results looked pretty disappointing given the level of expectation about what the growth of the renewables industry would mean for Scotland.

The 42,000 estimate for 2021 includes 15,000 offshore wind jobs.

In 2010 a report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Renewables found Scotland’s offshore wind industry could create 28,000 jobs directly by 2020.

News on Friday that Japanese giant Sumitomo could create around 265 jobs at a power cable plant in the Highlands with the support of £25m public funding doesn’t change the picture. The plans for the opening of the plant were announced amid fanfare in May last year.

Earlier this month a Highlands manufacturer, SGL Carbon, announced plans to shed up to 80 jobs citing a fall in demand from windfarm firms.

Soon after Mr Yousaf boasting about jobs in January the Scottish Government hailed official figures that it said underlined the enormous potential of Scotland’s green economy.

The numbers concerned indicate that Scotland generated more electricity from renewables in 2022 than it consumed that year.

READ MORE: Huge rise in windfarm support payments boosts energy giants

Welcoming the figures, then energy secretary Neil Gray said: “This is a significant milestone in Scotland’s journey to Net Zero … demonstrating the enormous potential of Scotland’s green economy.

“Scotland has the skills, talent and natural resources to become a global renewables powerhouse.”

Mr Gray added: “Our ambition is not only to generate enough green electricity to power Scotland’s homes and businesses, but also export electricity to our neighbours, supporting jobs here in Scotland and the decarbonisation ambitions of our partners.”

Earlier this month Mr Gray was moved to the health brief to succeed Michael Matheson, who resigned after incurring an £11,000 iPad data roaming bill while on holiday. 

Mr Gray’s excited comments about the electricity data for 2022 sounded like innumerable breathy press releases on the subject of renewables issued by the Scottish Government in recent years.

Renewables industry leaders shared Mr Gray’s enthusiasm.

However, the numbers don’t tell us much about what progress the country had made to reduce emissions.

The bulk of these are associated with industrial processes, transportation and heating sources that are not powered by electricity.

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If Scotland currently generates more electricity than it needs that would be partly because it benefits from the nuclear energy generated at the Torness plant in East Lothian.

Plant operator EDF notes that Torness generates carbon free electricity and is capable of supplying enough energy to power over two million homes. Torness is expected to close in 2028. 

The Scottish Government is opposed to new nuclear plants.

Other official figures which highlighted problems associated with increased reliance on windfarms and the like were released quietly in the lead up to Christmas.

A report dated December 21 indicates that renewables made a much weaker contribution in 2023 than in 2022.

"Over the first nine months of 2023, generation was down 8% compared to the same period in 2022. This is mainly due to less wind and rain in the first half of 2023 compared to 2022," notes the report.

It adds: "Generation from wind sources in the first three quarters of 2023 decreased 9% compared to the same period in 2022. Generation from hydro sources decreased by 10% over the same period."

The downturn underlines the scale of the challenge posed by the fact that renewables output is intermittent and dependent on weather conditions.

If ministers want to keep the lights on they will need to ensure that Scotland has access to power sources that aren’t so dependent on the weather or develops facilities that could be used to store power generated by renewables facilities in times of low demand.

Either option would entail hefty bills. These would likely be covered by households across the UK under existing constitutional arrangements.