BORIS Johnson has been slammed after praising Margaret Thatcher for giving the UK a “big early start” in the transition away from coal by closing so many mines.
The Prime Minister laughed as he made the comment to journalists after he was asked about setting a deadline for the end of oil and gas exploration.
Elsewhere, he insisted a second independence referendum is “about as far from the top of my agenda as it is possible to be”.
Mr Johnson held a virtual Q&A with the media as he visited the Moray East Offshore Wind Farm development on the final day of his trip to Scotland.
His comments have been met with oppositon.
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Lives & communities in Scotland were utterly devastated by Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry (which had zero to do with any concern she had for the planet). To treat that as something to laugh about is crass & deeply insensitive to that reality.”
Lives & communities in Scotland were utterly devastated by Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry (which had zero to do with any concern she had for the planet). To treat that as something to laugh about is crass & deeply insensitive to that reality. https://t.co/QY0Y59UO3K
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 5, 2021
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “Thatcher devastated communities across Scotland. Many still bear the scars of brutal Tory cuts.
“Yet again, Boris Johnson has shown he is completely out of touch with Scotland by making unbelievably crass jokes at the expense of our mining communities.”
Scottish Labour MSP Neil Bibby said Mr Johnson’s comments were “callous and foolish”.
He said: “It’s clear that the Prime Minister has no understanding at all of the damage done by the closure of the mines.
“To attempt to turn one of the most divisive and destructive periods in British history into a retrospective victory for the environment is deeply offensive to the people and communities who faced considerable hardship and misery.”
Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay said: “Thatcher’s decimation of the coal industry had absolutely nothing to do with environmentalism and everything to do with her despicable anti-trade union ideology.
“Communities across Scotland were decimated by these cruel and vindictive policies which destroyed industry and left workers high and dry.”
Mr Johnson was asked if he agreed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said he wanted to see a “hard-edged timetable” for the end of oil and gas exploration.
The Prime Minister said he understood the importance of the oil and gas industry to the north-east of Scotland, and that contracts which have been signed “should not just be ripped up”.
He added: “But we need to transition, and we need to transition as fast as we reasonably can.”
He said the potential of Scottish wind energy is “just incredible” and provides an opportunity to generate “high wage, high skilled jobs”.
Pushed on a deadline for the end of oil and gas exploration, given the timeline to reach net-zero emissions, he said: “You look at what we’ve done already. We’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime.
“Thanks to Margaret Thatcher who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we’re now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.”
Mr Johnson laughed as he made the comment, and added: “I thought that would get you going.”
He said: “We’re now down to less than 2 per cent, 1%, I think, of our energy comes from coal.”
Asked about independence, Mr Johnson said converting the vaccination programme into a “big jobs bounce-back” was his priority.
He said: “I think the priority for our country as a whole is bouncing back together, working our way forwards from this pandemic together, and I think the opportunities are absolutely phenomenal.
“The emphasis, I think, has got to be on economic recovery, and I think constitutional change is not top of my agenda, let me put it that way.”
The Prime Minister was asked if he would agree to an independence referendum during the coronavirus recovery.
He said: “Well, I think I’ve said several times now within the course of this discussion that I think that the focus should be on economic recovery and constitutional change is about as far from the top of my agenda as it is possible to be.”
Mr Johnson would not be drawn on Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove’s recent comments that a second referendum would happen if it was the “settled will” of Scots.
Elsewhere, he rejected calls for a safe drugs consumption room to be set up to help tackle Scotland’s drugs death crisis, saying he feared such a facility could “encourage” greater consumption of illegal substances.
Powers over drugs laws are reserved to Westminster.