KATE Forbes has suggested she would curb action to accelerate Scotland’s transition away from oil and gas and has warned the SNP against winding down the North Sea industry “too quickly”.

Nicola Sturgeon's government published its delayed energy strategy last month, which will investigate whether halting the North Sea oil and gas sector could be “accelerated” in order to push forward action to tackle the climate.

But the Finance Secretary, one of three candidates hoping to replace her as SNP leader and first minister, has warned the transition must take place “at the right pace”.

Read more: SNP to consider speeding up decline of North Sea oil and gas sector

She told The Herald on Sunday: “There is a huge opportunity for Scotland's economy with the expansion of the renewables industry, but those will only be realised if we transition from oil and gas at the right pace.

“The same talent, skills and supply chain is required for renewables as is currently employed by the oil and gas industry.

“Any transition that happens too quickly will not only damage the Scottish economy in the short term, but also the long term if we don't protect the jobs, skills and supply chain that is required for the renewables industry.”

Humza Yousaf, who is also bidding to become the next SNP leader, has indicated he would continue the progress on winding down the North Sea industry, but Ash Regan has indicated a change of direction if she becomes first minister.

It comes as a YouGov poll of 1,000 SNP voters shows there is huge support for a quicker move away from oil and gas and a shift to renewable energy.

Read more: SNP's just transition chief not consulted over oil and gas strategy

Climate campaigners have praised Nicola Sturgeon for ending the SNP’s “long-standing allegiance to fossil fuels”, adding that whoever replaces her “must continue in this direction and swiftly rule out support for any new fossil fuels”.

Mr Yousaf told The Herald on Sunday that “climate change is not going away”.

He said: “The world cannot go on extracting fossil fuels indefinitely and Scotland has a big part to play in that.

“The Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to prevent or limit extraction of fossil fuels. Scotland is an energy-rich country yet we suffer from the highest energy bills in the UK, that is our Union dividend.”

HeraldScotland: Humza YousafHumza Yousaf (Image: PA)

Mr Yousaf added: “Whilst oil and gas remains an important part of our energy mix, we must focus on a fairer, greener future for our planet.

“Working in partnership with those impacted by the transition to net zero whilst ensuring a just transition will be central to my energy strategy.

“I am committed to ring-fencing any revenues from oil and gas in a net zero fund in an independent Scotland.”

Ms Regan has set out her opposition to the Scottish Government’s policy, insisting she “will not support an accelerated net zero path which sees us turn off the North Sea taps”.

Read more: Ash Regan lashes out at Nicola Sturgeon's oil and gas strategy

She claimed the move would “throw tens of thousands of oil workers out of jobs” as well as “hollow out” communities while “still using and importing hydrocarbons”.

Ms Regan added: “I will stand up for our oil workers and their communities.”

The three candidates vying to become the next first minister have been urged to speed progress towards a fair and fast energy transition for workers and communities.

A new poll has found a majority of SNP voters, not the members who will pick the next leaders, supported a ban on exploration for new oil and gas and opposed the controversial Rosebank oil field.

Climate campaigners have stressed the candidates must lay out their vision for how Scotland will move away from oil and gas.

The YouGov poll for Uplift and Friends of the Earth Scotland was carried out on February 22 and February 23.

It found that more than 70 per cent of SNP voters support the UK to 'get off oil and gas as quickly as possible' by ramping up efforts to improve energy efficiency and scaling up renewable energy.

Read more: World-first fuel trial could cut North Sea oil and gas emissions

Only 4% thought the UK should 'continue to meet its energy demand primarily with oil and gas for as long as is necessary'.

More than 45% of SNP voters support for a ban on new exploration for oil and gas, compared to 39% who did not support it, and 16% who said they didn't know.

Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns, Mary Church, said: "As the campaign to be the next first minister hots up, any credible candidate must put the need for a fair and fast transition away from fossil fuels at the heart of their vision for Scotland's future.

"From banning fracking and opposing the Cambo field, to asking how soon to phase out oil and gas in the recent energy strategy, Nicola Sturgeon has started to steer the SNP away from its long-standing allegiance to fossil fuels.

“Her successor must continue in this direction and swiftly rule out support for any new fossil fuels, and put a plan in place to end reliance on oil and gas within this decade."