ICE at the party conferences - Scottish National Party

Rounding off this year’s series of party conferences ICE travelled north to Aberdeen for the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference.

The harbour of Aberdeen, where the SNP conference was held. Image by Jimmy Guano, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The harbour of Aberdeen, where the SNP conference was held. Image by Jimmy Guano, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]
  • Updated: 28 October, 2015
  • Author: Kelly Forbes, ICE Scotland Policy Manager

May’s General Election heralded the arrival of an enlarged vanguard of SNP MPs to Westminster, swelling the party’s representation on the benches to 56 seats. The visible elation in the post-election period has not dissipated and, in spite of the challenging issues under discussion, the mood of the conference was buoyant.

The packed three-day programme ranged from the potential impacts of the Comprehensive Spending Review to the Syrian crisis, the EU Referendum to the Borders Railway.

The future of Scotland’s energy sector

In the home of the North Sea oil and gas industry energy issues would always feature high on the agenda. The drop in the price of oil and gas, ongoing discussions around on-shore gas resources, and the pending closure of Longannet power station, were explored both on-stage and in fringe events.

  • Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) expect capital expenditure in the North Sea to drop by £2/3bn over the coming 3 years
  • At its peak the industry supported (directly and indirectly) 440,000 jobs, and this has already dropped by around 15%
  • Oil and gas prices are expected to remain at their current level for some time to come, and the industry is seeing a transfer of assets from large multi-nationals to smaller companies
  • The industry will have to demonstrate to potential in-comers that the North Sea basin still has a long life ahead of it if it is to address its skills gap

The mood of industry representatives was sombre, but far from hopeless. OGUK outlined plans for industry resource sharing, cooperation and efficiency, recognising that the old model of competition was no longer suitable in a mature basin. While industry and politicians are looking for tools to support the industry through trying times, questions from audiences highlighted the anxieties of the 37,500 people reliant upon its survival and long-term health.

The resolution on the moratorium on fracking made headlines with the conference voting not to accept amendments calling for an outright ban in Scotland. Scottish Government representatives highlighted the need for an evidence based approach with full consultation before a decision is made, but this did not stop members speaking against the party line. As Callum McCaig MP noted, both sides of the fracking debate believe that the scientific evidence will vindicate their position. This highlights the need for independent scientific and technical expertise to be at the forefront of discussions, improving public understanding of the techniques, the potential benefits and consequences.

Other highlights

  • The Comprehensive Spending Review: Senior Scottish Government figures believe that the Comprehensive Spending Review in November will have a noticeable impact upon their infrastructure investment plans. They expect challenging numbers from the CSR, but believe they’ve coped with a 10% real terms budget reduction since 2010 through innovation and ‘lean’ investment, and see further ‘leaning’ of public service spend as the key to coping with the projected cuts.
  • ‘Indy Ref #2’: A second referendum is not inevitable but would be dependant on a substantive change from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ - so it’s about timing and the EU Referendum. SNP membership remains highly divided about a) whether there should be a second referendum, and b) if so, what the trigger would be in order for it to be called.

What’s next?

Having met with representatives from a broad range of industries, civil servants and politicians, the ICE Policy team and ICE Scotland will be following up opportunities to develop positive working relationships. ICE Scotland will soon launch its State of the Nation Scotland Infrastructure 2015 report, and will talk to both established stakeholders and new contacts in advance of the 2016 Holyrood elections.