SNP and Greens in Holyrood spat over freeports

THE two parties in the Scottish Government have publicly squabbled at Holyrood over the creation of two so-called ‘green freeports’ north off the border.

The SNP defended the idea, which comes with £52m from the UK Treasury as part of Boris Johnson’s Levelling Up agenda, while the Scottish Greens attacked it 

Green MSP Maggie Chapman said the low-tax enterprise zones led to tax dodging, bad labour practice and damaged the environment.

SNP trade minister Ivan McKee said he was “perplexed” at her comments.

After initially condemning them, SNP ministers backed freeports earlier this month, and said extra safeguards on net zero and jobs would make them “green freeports”. 

However the Greens believe they remain a “corporate giveaway”, with big business getting tax breaks and grants.

Under the joint government deal between the SNP and Greens, freeports are an “excluded matter”, meaning the parties can disagree about them without the alliance collapsing.

Mr McKee said the Scottish Government had secured a far better deal from the UK Government than it had initially wanted to offer.

That included Edinburgh and London having an equal say in the location of the ports, an emphasis on green jobs and fair work, and almost three times the original Treasury funding. 

After the SNP previously condemned freeports as havens for crime and tax-dodging, Mr McKee said the government would be “optimistic but vigilant” towards the project.

The Government will issue a prospectus to places wanting to host a freeport in March.

The zones are centred on airports, ports or rail heads, but can be 45km across.

Mr McKee also denied the Scottish Goverment was to blame for freeports coming to Scotland around a year later than England, saying it had been London which had ignored his letrers and been slow to come to the table and recognise Scotland’s specific needs.

Ms Chapman was unconvinced and restated her party’s “very strong opposition”.

She said: “I must make clear that what we’ve heard today does not do enough to challenge the fundamental functions of freeports – that they facilitate and legitimise tax avoidance, poor labour conditions and environmental degradation.

“It is not enough that bids will ‘aim for the very highest standards in fair work practices’. 

“We must demand and require companies to meet these high standards.

“Workers and trade unions deserve nothing less.

“Aren’t these proposals just a UK Government Brexit project that has been greenwashed and will result in tax avoidance and the loss of public resources and common’s wealth to the private sector?”

Mr McKee replied: “No”, adding the ports met Green aspirations on fair work, payment of the real living wage, net zero, and building Scotland’s industrial base of green jobs. 

He added: “This green port model also is very very clear about no degradation of workers’ rights or environmental standards and frankly I’m a bit perplexed about why the Greens don’t support the green port model given it ticks all their boxes.”

Speaking next, Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie said: “Doesn’t the last exchange show the complete irrelevance of the Greens in government, that they can’t have any influence over government policy?”

Tory MSP Liam Kerr accused Mr McKee of an “extraordinary re-writing of history” and said he never wanted freeports but was over-ruled by finance secretary Kate Forbes. 

A UK Government source said: “Bringing two freeports to Scotland will create jobs, attract investment, help the drive towards net zero and turbo-charge the Scot economy.

“The UK Government has invested £52m in Scottish freeports.

“While it is disappointing Scottish Government ministers were unable to come up with their fair share of the cash, we are delighted they are working with us for the good of the Scottish people and to deliver the full suite of tax breaks and benefits.

“We have engaged fully with Scottish Government ministers throughout the negotiation process and we recognise they have come a long way from their initial position of hostility to freeports.

“They have also managed to overcome intense oppositiuon from their Green partners in Government to deliver the huge economic benfits which will result from freeports.”

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *