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‘At a cliff edge’: Union fury as Scotland faces loss of 30,000 oil and gas jobs



And Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, the biggest union backer of Labour who are favourites to win the next General Election has told the Herald on Sunday she has “no problem whatsoever being on the naughty step” over pushing the campaign to save and create new jobs in Scotland warning that the nation’s oil and gas workers are heading toward becoming “the coal miners of our generation” through the loss of jobs.

About three-quarters of the country’s 187,000 miners went on strike in 1984 and 1985 to oppose pit closures, which were expected to mean 20,000 job losses.

Ms Graham said Labour could become the “heroes of the hour” if it committed to the union’s radical plan to spend £1.1bn a year over the next six years in investment in Scotland to create the transition from oil and gas to renewables – which she says will save 30,000 jobs and create 6,000 more by 2030.

The Herald revealed how Unite was beginning to target six key Scottish election constituencies that is heavily dependent on oil that the Labour Party hopes to seize at a forthcoming general election calling for them to re-consider its current oil licences ban policy.

The ‘No ban without a plan’ campaign which will cost more than £100,000 will focus on the areas of Aberdeenshire North and Moray, Aberdeen North, Alloa and Grangemouth, Bathgate and Linlithgow, Falkirk and Orkney and Shetland and warns Labour not to “push North Sea workers off a cliff edge”.

The Herald: The first of Unite's oil jobs billboards goes up in Edinburgh

It has emerged that the money is part of funds earmarked for Labour that is being diverted into stoking public pressure for the party that is favourite to win the next General Election to shift its position on key issues.

Unite gave Labour £3.5m in the run-up to the 2019 general election, making it by far the biggest contributor to the party’s campaign. Currently, it has £2.9m in its political fund.

The Unite campaign involves the erection of billboards, paid advertising displays, and canvassing residents.

It has been described as a “grass roots mobilisation of Unite members organised in the constituencies delivering leaflets and organising events, and lobbies to raise the debate”.

Ms Graham, armed with a copy of The Herald which first revealed some of the details of the hugely influential union’s campaign, said that Labour needs to commit to their plan for 36,000 jobs in Scotland as it is a “vote winner”.

She said: “I keep saying with Ed Miliband [shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero and other people say Sharon there’s gonna be [so many] jobs [in transition to green energy]. I say name me one. Name me one of those jobs. So they can’t name them. ”

The key union official, who began work as a silver service waitress at 16, and led her first walkout at 17 in defence of the rights of casual workers which she won, added: “So we just say, we’re gonna now start to look at it. So we can create 36,000 jobs, partly, 24,000 in wind power, including the whole manufacture and that we have laid this out very clearly.

“We would be creating by 2030, 36,000 jobs and we’ve done this with a huge number of experts. It isn’t being done on the back of a fag packet.

“Jobs would also come from decommissioning and some through carbon capture, and some of that is hydrogen.

The Herald:

We’re saying to Labour it’s irresponsible to talk about shutting licenses down because one of the things we need is time, we need to build the infrastructure.

“So 30,000 jobs will go from oil and gas by 2030. They’ll be gone. If they grasp the next nettle and say they are going to invest properly in Scotland we could have an extension of jobs.

“You either make these choices, or you don’t make these choices. And that’s why I am absolutely committed that this plan has to be adopted.”

The influential union leader, who took over as head of the union from Len McCluskey when he announced his retirement after ten years in 2021, said: “I am sure people will be thinking, oh just keep quiet, keep your head down, just get them [Labour] in, just get them in, just get them in. The truth of the matter is that workers aren’t fools.

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“You know, if you want to come into Scotland and take the vote of the Scottish worker, I think people will be open to listening to the Labour offer in Scotland at the moment, I might be wrong, but I think people would be open to listening to it.

“But actually they’d have to have something to vote for.

“Now I’ve got 1000s of members in oil and gas, we are the biggest union in oil and gas and they are saying to me, what is Labour’s plan for my industry.

“This is a moment for Labour to seize the day to say well actually we think this could work you know, take it away, pore it all over. But we [have] to prepare for the cliff edge of oil and gas workers that is literally coming up.

The Herald: Sharon Graham (centre) on manouversSharon Graham (centre) in a protest.

“This is the moment for Labour to be the heroes of the hour.

“I’m the daughter of mining stock. Members of my family are miners, and I’ve seen what happened to their communities. And I don’t want oil and gas workers to become coal miners of our generation and that is where we are heading, quite frankly.

The Herald previously revealed that the nation’s oil and gas industry is estimated to have lost tens of thousands of jobs more jobs than has been gained from renewables in the green revolution over a decade leading to grave disquiet over how the nation’s energy economy is being handled.

The oil and gas industry in Scotland has shed nearly 40% of its jobs amounting to 50,000 in Scotland over a decade, according to industry figures – while the number gained from low carbon enterprises has risen by just 2,500.

The Scottish oil and gas jobs loss has come despite the UK Government pressing ahead with new licensing for fossil fuels projects.

Data gathered by the trade association, Offshore Energies UK working with the multinational data analytics and consumer credit analysis Experian found that the number of jobs directly and indirectly employed in oil and gas in Scotland have crashed by nearly 40% since 2013 from 117,900 to just 74,100 in 2022.

During the period, the UK Government has issued roughly 400 new drilling licences in five separate licensing rounds.

According to official estimates, the numbers employed in Scotland in the low carbon and renewable energy economy employment has only risen from 23,200 in 2014 to 25,700 in 2022. It was previously revealed that jobs in the low carbon and renewable energy sector (LCRE) on Scotland had dropped by 13% in the year from 29,700 – while turnover has soared by 47% from £8.853bn to £12.992bn.

The Herald: Sharon Graham Unite general secretary has commented on the situation

The general secretary of Unite, which pays significant affiliation fees to Labour, amounting to almost £1.1m up to September, last year said that if she did not have to pay for a campaign to oil and gas the money would have remained in the political fund that might be used to help fund Labour’s forthcoming election campaign.

“In reality, I’m having to push a campaign on oil and gas because I’m saying don’t let go of one rope until you take hold of another. I’m saying commit 1.1 billion pounds a year for the next six years,” said Ms Graham, who was elected the general secretary of Unite in August, 2021 with 46,696 votes, 37.7% of the votes cast.

“You know, obviously I’m going to spend the political fund money in the best way that gets my members what they need for the jobs that they do.”

Ms Graham, whose confrontational approach to the Labour Party led to the New Statesman naming her as the eleventh most powerful Left Wing figure in the UK last year said: “My primary job is to lead Unite and to fight for workers, that’s the primary job and if I think by pushing Labour into a position to back Scottish workers in oil and gas, I need to do that. There is a moment here where it’s a win-win for everybody.

“I mean, let’s be clear. I want workers to be treated well. I’ve got no problem whatsoever being on the naughty step for pushing this stuff. That’s my job. And I’m not going to be worried about doing that.

“If Labour pick up that baton, then they get the votes, that’s just the reality of it.

“I want a Labour government, I will be putting my cross for Labour. But what people are saying is that they want to hear clear commitments in terms of what they’re doing.

“I think Labour could be in a really good position here. Because if they pick this up, it’s an absolute solid commitment to Scotland. And we’re talking about very small amounts of money. We need to have energy. And Scotland is key. The voters in Scotland are key. We’ve [got] to commit this to Scotland. ”

More than 10 years ago the Scottish Government was championing the desire to be the green energy capital of Europe with around 28,000 jobs in offshore wind alone by 2020.

One Scottish Labour activist told The Herald that he understood the need to protect Scottish jobs but that Unite was in danger of “shooting itself in the foot” if it wanted a party fighting for workers’ rights in government.

“This kind of rebellion within the rank and file and that includes unions, just presents an impression that the party is weak and it is far from it,” he said.

Early last month, a YouGov survey found that Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is polling ahead of the Scottish National Party (SNP) for the first time in Scotland since an independence referendum almost a decade ago.

Regaining ground in its former Scottish heartlands is key for Labour’s hopes of winning the next national election, expected later this year, and the poll gave Labour 33% of support in Scotland, compared to 31% for the pro-independence SNP.

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That is Labour’s first lead over the SNP in voting intention in Scotland for the UK election since June 2014, YouGov said, though a projection last week showed Labour was set to win more seats than the SNP in Scotland too.

Scotland voted by 55% to 45% to remain part of the United Kingdom at a referendum in September 2014, but the momentum of that campaign and popularity of former leader Nicola Sturgeon have helped propel the SNP to a dominant position in Scotland since the 2015 national election.

However, the party’s fortunes have since waned, and Sturgeon resigned a year ago in a shock move amid questions over her strategy for pursuing a new independence vote and a police probe into the party’s finances.

The YouGov poll showed appetite for Scottish independence was unchanged, with 53% supporting remaining in the UK and 47% backing independence.

YouGov polled 1,100 adults in Scotland between March 25 and April 2.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “The skills and expertise of the North Sea are central to Labour’s plans to make Scotland a clean energy superpower.

“The SNP and the Tories have failed workers time and time again by letting energy jobs go abroad, and they are selling out workers and communities again by leaving the oil and gas industry without a plan.

“It’s absolutely right that there needs to be a comprehensive plan on jobs, and that’s exactly what Labour is offering.

“Working together with workers, industry and trade unions, Labour will deliver the greatest investment in the future of the North Sea in a generation.

“Only Labour is committed to unlocking Scotland’s potential as a clean energy superpower and delivering good jobs, lower bills and greater energy security.”

The Herald:

And Ed Miliband, Labour’s UK shadow energy secretary said: “Labour has a non-negotiable commitment to a proud future for the North Sea. We will deliver the most significant investment in the North Sea in a generation, as we pursue our mission for energy independence and lower bills. If the Conservatives in Westminster and the SNP in Holyrood are re-elected, they will continue to sell out workers and communities by leaving the industry without a plan for the future, as they have done for the last 14 years.

“We agree with anyone who says that there needs to be a comprehensive plan- and that is exactly what Labour will deliver with our world-leading agenda: Great British Energy; a National Wealth Fund; our British Jobs Bonus; and the New Deal for Working People.”

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