WE need to talk about Cambo – one of the biggest dividing lines in Scottish politics.

Two weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon said drilling in the massive fields west of Shetland should not get the green light – and since then has looked a bit lonely.

Alex Salmond weighed in arguing that her anti-Cambo stance leaves local SNP activists “defending a party which in effect wants to shut down the area’s key industry”, a bit like “Margaret Thatcher, having closed the pits, campaigning for votes in the old mining areas of Cowdenbeath and Kelty.”

It’s kind, if a little puzzling, that Alex cares so much about SNP fortunes, and in any case the Scottish Conservatives have little trouble campaigning in Aberdeen despite well and truly shafting the city’s “Acorn” proposal for carbon capture.

Still, former energy minister Fergus Ewing has also backed Alba, arguing that Cambo oil might actually be better for the environment than imported oil from Norway and Qatar since Scotland cannot shift immediately from fossil fuels to renewable energy – a line also advanced by the oil king, Sir Ian Wood even though no-one is talking of an instant green transition.

The National:

Scottish Labour also seems to be cooling on a drilling ban, with the resignation of energy spokesperson Monica Lennon, whose question coaxed the First Minister off the Cambo fence. Meanwhile Labour has drawn its horns in at UK level too, with the demotion of Ed Miliband to a climate change brief that looks designed to stop any repetition of his support for re-nationalising Britain’s energy system.

Suddenly, as COP26 fades in the memory, it seems opposition parties have gone a bit off the boil.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon rejects Alex Salmond criticism Cambo opposition will cost SNP votes

Obviously, the Scottish Greens oppose any further extraction of oil and gas, but their ability to lead a vigorous anti-Cambo campaign is limited, especially if their senior coalition partners hesitate in the face of a backlash from Scotland’s 70k strong oil and gas workforce.

But haud on a minute.

Because there are big holes in the unchallenged pro-drilling narrative.

For starters, Cambo oil won’t help Scotland avoid environmentally damaging oil imports in the decades ahead – it’s far more likely to be exported, like 78% of Scotland’s crude oil and 41% of its refined oil at present. According to international climate change lawyer Tessa Khan, there’s only a 12.9% chance that Cambo oil will be used in the UK, where half the gas and more than a quarter of the oil used in 2019 was imported.

No, it doesn’t make sense. But yes, it makes loadsa money – for some.

As the redoutable Ferret investigators uncovered, Siccar Point Energy, which has a controlling 70% stake in Cambo, is owned by a company registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg – sixth worst in the world for financial secrecy according to the Tax Justice Network. So, the UK (or an independent Scotland) could be deprived of tens of millions in Cambo-derived taxes.

The company says it’ll produce 50% fewer emissions at Cambo than the average UK field and create 1000 direct jobs.

But Cambo oil is a heavy crude for which there’s low global demand – one reason it’s taken 20 years to approach extraction.

So, if it ain’t about energy security or aiding the green transition, what is Cambo about?

Money and a few more years of the oil-based infrastructure Scotland must soon jettison. How does that really help?

Of course, many fear that halting Cambo for the good of the planet, will be a noble but ultimately pointless gesture.

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with being a climate pioneer. But in any case, the UK/Scotland wouldn’t be alone if it cancelled drilling.

Norway is western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer with a daily output of around 4 million barrels – a whopping industry that provides 42% of Norwegian exports (goods), a hefty contribution to public finances and 200,000 well-paid jobs across rural Norway. The new Social Democrat government has just disappointed campaigners by announcing new licences for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

So far, so fossil.

But Norway uses heat pumps and hydro not its own oil and gas reserves. Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund has astutely divested from all fossil fuel investments and the country has the highest rate of electric car use in the world.

And despite the headline-grabbing Arctic licences, Norway has already taken a massive step against new oil drilling.

​READ MORE: Make Cambo developers help pay for Scottish carbon capture plant, says Salmond

All parties in the Storting are agreed there will be no drilling around the Lofoten Islands, despite the presence of between one and three billion barrels of oil, worth approximately $15 billion dollars. That massive oil wealth will stay in the ground – because Lofoten waters are the spawning grounds for the world’s largest remaining cod stocks and because local island councils simply vetoed the drilling proposals.

Democracy – don’t you love it.

Cambo’s estimated 800 million barrels of oil is enormous by UK standards but less than half the size of the oil reserves Norway has just foregone.

Meanwhile the new Barents Sea fields are so unpromising for oil prospectors that some of the new Arctic licences have attracted no bidders.

So, Scots are not alone in facing a big energy decision with a political leader opting in favour of ecology, long-term stability and a future-proofed energy system.

Is the alternative sitting out there?

Not completely.

But Scotland – the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy – will not find a viable alternative to oil and gas until the pressure is on and the money finally arrives to back commercial exploitation of Scotland’s renewable riches – tidal and wave energy, district heating, heat pumps, PV panels, green hydrogen, pump storage, mini-hydro, wind energy and community grids.

In any case, is a Cambo drilling ban really a vote loser?

A YouGov poll found 38% of voters in northeast Scotland backed drilling with 27% opposed and 36% unsure. Meanwhile 73% of Scots sampled in the rest of Scotland are either opposed to Cambo drilling or uncertain.

That’s not a country wedded to the need for more oil drilling. It’s a country that wants a good, vigorous debate about an alternative energy future.

The National: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon updates MSPs on any changes to the Covid-19 restrictions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture date: Tuesday November 16, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SCOTLAND Coronavirus . Photo credit

If Nicola Sturgeon’s Cambo stance is so unpopular, it also seems surprising that the latest Ipsos MORI opinion poll records massive backing for the SNP leader, her party and the cause of independence – now at its highest level in a year.

So, it’s time for some courage.

It would be a great mistake for the First Minister to water down or disown her opposition to Cambo and try to push the issue out of the spotlight. Within months she’ll launch a second indyref campaign along with its centrepiece – a new post COP26 economic strategy.

​READ MORE: Alex Salmond says the jailing of ex diplomat Craig Murray has 'shamed' Scotland

What will that be – an old oil-era nation, willing to wring the last dollars out of the planet for some tax-haven based millionaires? Or a new country driving the search for alternatives to future-proof jobs and safeguard the planet?

It’s true that Cambo isn’t actually our shout. The licence will be awarded by a Westminster government that pays no attention to Scottish opinion. But the drilling debate still matters.

The Scottish Government could use planning powers to block new Cambo pipelines reaching landfall on Shetland – and if Scotland is set to become an independent country, investors need to know the lie of the land.

Handled with vigour, the Cambo decision could be a turning point in the constitutional debate as Scots reject the planet-destroying, short term grabbiness of Westminster for a bolder, integrated, long-term, home-grown energy strategy that will only be delivered with independence.

If Nicola Sturgeon has the courage of her convictions.