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SNP-Green split over plans to establish two ‘freeports’ in Scotland

Aberdeen Harbour is one of the sites hoping to be granted freeport status.

The SNP’s trade minister says he is “perplexed” over the “very strong opposition on freeports” from his Green party coalition partners.

Two Scottish freeports – sites which are granted special tax status – will be named later this year after a £52 million deal was struck between the Holyrood and Westminster governments.

The Scottish Greens have slammed freeports which they claim are “essentially tax havens” for large corporations.

And the row between the two government partners played out at Holyrood as Trade Minister Ivan McKee outlined his government’s support of the scheme.

The SNP minister said bidders must comply with fair work practices, including payment of the real living wage and deliver on carbon-reducing aspirations.

‘Very strong opposition to freeports’

But north-east Green MSP Maggie Chapman said her party shared a “very strong opposition to freeports”, which she dubbed a “UK Government Brexit project”.

She told MSPs the sites “facilitate and legitimise tax avoidance, poor labour conditions  and environmental degradation”.

Ms Chapman added: “It is not enough that bids will, and I quote, ‘aim for the very highest standards in fair work practices’.

“We must demand and require companies to meet these high standards, our workers and trade unions deserve nothing less.”

Mr McKee disputed the Green MSP’s claims, highlighting aspects of the plans which he believes align with Green policies including delivering on net zero, building Scotland’s industrial base and a “clear commitment of no degradation of workers rights”.

He added: “Frankly, I’m a bit perplexed why the Greens don’t support the green port model given it ticks all their boxes in terms of their requirements for such a model.”

The freeports agreement, which was reached last week, follows lengthy negotiations between the two administrations.

Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee.

A UK Government source said the SNP had managed to “overcome intense opposition” from their Green partners to ensure the scheme is delivered in Scotland.

Ports at Aberdeen, Peterhead, Cromarty Firth, Dundee and Grangemouth are among the sites that have expressed an interest in bidding for the special status, which offers tax reliefs and other incentives.

Talks collapsed between the two governments last year over the best model to use for the ports, with the Scottish Government insisting on “red line requests”, including payment of the real living wage.

Delivering his statement in parliament, the SNP trade minister hit out at “criticism that the Scottish Government delayed discussions”.

He said any delays were a “consequence of the UK Government being slow to come to the table and being slow to recognise our specific requirements”.

‘Huge economic benefits’

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

“The UK Government has invested £52m in Scottish freeports. While it is disappointing Scottish Government ministers were unable to come up with its fair share of 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 that they have come a long way from their initial position of hostility to freeports.

“They have also managed to overcome intense opposition from their Green partners in government in order to deliver the huge economic benefits which will result from freeports.”

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