I don’t know the provenance of the headline about Sir Keir Starmer planning to ban new North Sea licences if Labour wins next year’s General Election. Any story in which the only source is anonymous should be treated with caution, particularly on a Sunday.

Certainly, Sir Keir should think long and hard before making a promised speech next month. Such have been the failures of energy policy that Labour has an open goal, particularly in Scotland. It would be a pity to turn it into an own goal by prioritising virtue-signalling bans over game-changing potential for delivery.

The problems arise when these debates are framed as good against evil. Renewable energy is virtuous and fossil fuels are wicked, or so the sub-text goes. From that point, it is tempting to be sucked into irrationality. Who would not want to be on the side of the righteous?

Except, of course, energy policy is not nearly that simple and the intention attributed to Labour is, as Professor Paul de Leeuw of Robert Gordon University remarked, “at the naïve end of the spectrum”. That gives grounds for optimism that Sir Keir will avoid it before coming to Aberdeen.

On any day, between 20 and 60 per cent of our electricity is generated from gas. It is difficult to recall now that until Mrs Thatcher’s time it was illegal to use gas, a primary resource, in this way. The sooner alternatives can be found, the better. That is where the focus should lie alongside the absolute duty to maintain security of supply.

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Already, half the gas used in the UK is imported and we are barely self-sufficient in oil. Yet the industry still sustains 170,000 jobs. Only new investment under strict regulatory conditions will keep the North Sea alive. Put all that together and the obvious answer is to maintain domestic production while making credible commitments to accelerate transition. That should be Labour’s policy.

As long as we need oil and gas, it will be difficult to convince the great British public that it makes sense to import more while abandoning our capacity to produce. In particular, it will be impossible to convince working people and their families who depend on the industry. They are very willing to be transitioned but will not, in the meantime, volunteer to be abandoned.

The counter-argument is that we should lead the world through self-sacrifice. Frankly, the world as represented by energy companies isn’t impressed. If they can’t invest in the North Sea, they will invest elsewhere. There is no shortage of options and pesky regulations are usually a lot less in evidence. Will it be a triumph for the environment if the UK imports 100 per cent of our oil and gas?

Before making his big speech, Sir Keir could do worse than visit Oslo for a chat with the Labour Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre. Norway, which we are often asked to admire, “gets it”. It has just announced one of its biggest-ever licensing rounds in the North Sea and Barents Sea. Since the Russian attack on Ukraine, Norway has become the leading supplier of gas to Europe, ensuring energy security.

Does this mean the Norwegians are laggards on a “just transition”? Of course not. They know that demand for oil and gas will reduce over the coming decades but see no contradiction in safeguarding their industry, ensuring Europe’s energy security at a critical time and transitioning to a net zero future. Neither should we and neither, in particular, should Labour.

Maybe Sir Keir could also learn from quite recent history, though Ed Miliband would not be the best teacher. Labour is now committed to include nuclear power in its road to net zero. Indeed, it criticises the Tories – quite rightly – for tardiness in pursuing this path though that, of course, demands a selective historical recall.

When I was struggling as Energy Minister 20 years ago to maintain a balanced energy policy, my foes were not the Tories but such tribunes of the left as Dame Margaret Beckett and Lord Hain of Neath. The “good versus evil” school of virtue demanded Labour being “anti-nuclear”. Pleading that nuclear was vital to our carbon reduction aspirations was hopeless; being “pro-nuclear” made one an object of darkest suspicion.

It took Labour a few more years to grow up. The turning point was in 2006 when Russia briefly cut off Ukraine’s gas supply and it dawned that future dependence on Russian gas (which was baked into the anti-nuclear policy) was not the brightest idea in the world. In the same vein, neither is abandoning the North Sea prematurely, in response to the current framing of “good versus evil”.

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The problem with the proffered alternative, full-blooded transition to renewables with enough jobs to compensate, is that people have heard it before and it has been a promise conspicuously unfulfilled. Labour can do far, far better – just as, 20 years ago, we introduced the most effective instrument yet devised by any country in the form of the Renewables Obligation.

Ever since, governments in Edinburgh and London failed lamentably to turn renewables generation into significant numbers of jobs or a domestic supply chain, which creates understandable scepticism about glib promises it will all be different this time. That will require massive infrastructure investment and tangible evidence before voters are convinced.

The open goal is for Labour to become credible on this, in a way nobody else is. It should work with North Sea industry to deliver transition rather than scare the wits out of it. Creating a GB Energy company on behalf of us all (like BNOC in the 1970s) an excellent commitment. There are so many opportunities for exciting, creative policies and Labour should be their standard-bearer.

Before delivering anything, they’ve got to be elected and one prerequisite may be to ban the word “ban” from their energy vocabulary. To get the policy balance right, Sir Keir needs to set the terms of debate, rather than being drawn into the naivete of false choices.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.