Nicola Sturgeon has backed proposals for a “summit” to help break down the barriers faced by oil and gas workers moving into renewable energy.
The first minister threw her support behind the idea during a campaign election visit in Aberdeen where she met candidates ahead of polling day on May 5.
The SNP leader denied a split is forming in her party over the future of oil and gas production in the North Sea, including among her north-east representatives.
But she acknowledged there is a “concern” the transition away from fossil fuels is carried out “properly” and in a way that does not let “Aberdeen be neglected”.
On the SNP’s election hopes, Ms Sturgeon said she is “optimistic” the party can take control of the city authority due to an “appetite in Aberdeen to see change in the council away from the Labour-Tory alliance in recent years”.
Speaking to the Press and Journal at the Greyhope Bay Centre in Torry, she said her government is committed to making the Granite City the “net zero capital of Europe”.
She addressed a recent survey led by SNP MSP Gillian Martin which found just one in 10 workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry say they have enough opportunities to switch to renewables.
Ms Sturgeon said she would support Ms Martin’s call for a series of high level summits to break down the various barriers holding back the “just transition” away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.
The SNP leader added that while the one in 10 figure “doesn’t surprise” her during a time of transition”, she admits her government “need to do more around investment in renewables and low carbon”.
On recent perceived splits within the SNP over the future of domestic oil and gas production in the North Sea, Ms Sturgeon said: “I wouldn’t say it’s a divergence of view.
“More I think an understandable – which I actually share – concern that we do this properly.
I think what you’re seeing in the SNP is just a lot of real determination not to allow us to let Aberdeen be neglected and I certainly share that.
“Aberdeen is the oil and gas capital of Europe. My ambition is for Aberdeen to become the net zero capital of Europe and the jobs dependent on oil and gas to be migrated and transitioned into renewables and low carbon.
“That doesn’t happen by accident. I grew up in Ayrshire in the 1980s and I saw what happened to communities in a major economic transformation when governments didn’t make sure that people were taken along with them.
“I don’t want that to happen here. I think what you’re seeing in the SNP is just a lot of real determination not to allow us to let Aberdeen be neglected and I certainly share that.
“I welcome that challenge. I think it’s important for government to have that challenge and I want to be very clear that I am totally committed to a fair and a just transition for Aberdeen.”
Ms Sturgeon dismissed claims from opposition politicians – including former First Minister Alex Salmond – that the SNP has forgotten the north-east.
Both the Conservatives and now Alex Salmond are political opponents.
– Nicola Sturgeon
She said: “I just don’t accept that at all. I mean both the Conservatives and now Alex Salmond are political opponents so in a sense they would say that.
“I remember the days when I was much younger in politics when people used to accuse us of being a north-east party.
“I was trying to get elected in the central belt and people would point to Alex Salmond and say ‘well he leads the SNP and he’s from the north-east’.
“Well actually the SNP is Scotland’s party. We represent all parts of Scotland, urban, rural, south of Scotland, central belt, the north-east, the highlands and our island communities and that’s as it should be.”
The first minister also reflected on her time leading the country during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Scotland moves increasingly towards normality.
But she admits she does feel a “sense of anxiety that we don’t completely take our eye off the ball because Covid hasn’t gone away”.
She said: “It has definitely changed the way I think. It has definitely changed my sense of what’s important in life and what is not so important.
“I don’t think I’d be the only person in the country, far from it, that feels like it.
“I’ve not yet had the time to properly step back and reflect on it all.
“But it’s definitely changed me. It’s changed my approach to leadership and I think it would be hard to imagine it not doing that given the severity of it.
“I definitely feel a sense of relief that we’ve got to this point where things are better, we don’t have legal restrictions, but that is coupled with a sense of anxiety that we don’t completely take our eye off the ball because Covid hasn’t gone away.
“Case rates are still quite high just now, pressure on the health service is still significant.”