Prestwick Airport

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th February 2018.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

3. When I last asked the First Minister about the Scottish Government’s oversight of the publicly owned Prestwick airport, she told me, very clearly, that the Government had had no discussions about the relationship between the airport and the Trump Organization. Thanks to the work of

The Guardian newspaper, we now know that such discussions took place, with the Government’s own transport agency lobbying ministers to meet Trump’s representatives and the airport being marketed as the staging post for Trump’s business.

We also know that concerns about that public asset go far deeper than that and concern the airport’s contractual relationship with the United States military, involving the servicing of aircraft on active missions at a time when the US was involved in air strikes in Syria that the First Minister vocally opposed. The Scottish Government must take responsibility for the use of its own property in that way. Can the First Minister tell us—and if she does not know, will she find out urgently and report back to Parliament—how many military strikes have been facilitated by Prestwick airport through its relationship with the US military?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

What I said to Patrick Harvie the last time that he raised this question in Parliament was absolutely correct.

There are two key so-called revelations at the heart of the story. The first is that ministers somehow lobbied Trump on behalf of Prestwick airport. That is based on the fact that, back in early 2015—which, incidentally, was way before Mr Trump was even a candidate, let alone President—Transport Scotland passed on a request from Prestwick for ministers to meet the Trump Organization during Scotland week that year. Those meetings did not happen, so that part of the story is categorically untrue. There has been no contact whatsoever by the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland with the US military, the Trump Organization or Trump Turnberry in relation to Prestwick airport.

The second so-called revelation is that Prestwick airport handles military flights, including flights for the US. I have to say that the fact that it provides fixed-base operations and refuelling facilities for military flights is neither new nor a revelation. The airport’s strategic plan, which was published in April 2017, talks about that. Its annual accounts, which were published in, I think, December 2017, talk about it. Its website also actively promotes it. What is more, Prestwick airport has been doing such work for 80 years.

I am not old enough to remember this—and I do not think that Patrick Harvie is, either—but those who are old enough will remember the day that Elvis Presley touched down at Prestwick airport. He was there because he was on his way home from national service, on a military plane that landed at Prestwick to refuel. That is not new and it is not a revelation: it is a load of bunkum.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

That dismissive response from the First Minister was extremely disappointing. She denies that meetings took place between ministers and the Trump Organization; no one has suggested that they did, but discussions most certainly did take place, and she should acknowledge that the Government was aware of those discussions at the time.

The First Minister also talks about Prestwick’s long 80-year history, but the airport is now Scottish ministers’ property, and that brings a new responsibility. The First Minister and her colleagues have quite rightly challenged the United Kingdom Government for refusing to step in when a business that it largely owns—the Royal Bank of Scotland—fails to work in the public interest. Public ownership carries the responsibility of ensuring the proper conduct of a business, but this public asset, which the First Minister has said should be looking to freight and retail development for its future, now appears to have based its business model on servicing military attacks that the Scottish Government claims to oppose and promoting the toxic Trump brand, which can only damage Scotland’s reputation.

Full disclosure is needed. Will the Scottish Government now release all the information that it holds on the situation, with nothing redacted or held back by ministers or special advisers simply because it is inconvenient or unhelpful to the Government? Will it publish?

The First Minister:

We have published. As I understand it, it was a freedom of information request submitted by

The Guardian that allowed the story that we are talking about to be published in the first place.

Let me make it absolutely clear—and I think that Patrick Harvie has to be careful to be clear here, too—that there have been no discussions on the part of the Scottish Government, whether through ministers, officials or Transport Scotland, with the US military, the Trump Organization or Trump Turnberry. That is what I said the last time in Parliament, it is what I said in my previous answer, and it is absolutely the case. Transport Scotland passed on a request from Prestwick airport that was never followed up—the meetings did not take place. When we first asked about that by The Guardian, I think that there was a suggestion that there had been a request for me to do those meetings during Scotland week in 2015—I did not even go to Scotland week in 2015. The meetings and discussions did not happen.

As for the work at the airport, Glasgow Prestwick offers refuelling and fixed-base operations for a wide range of private flights, scientific research flights and military flights. Those are not actually contracts; they are non-contractual agreements, and they are the same type of agreements that were in place well before the airport was in public ownership and have been in existence for decades.

This is not new, and it is not a revelation. This is the kind of work that happens at Prestwick. My mother is from Prestwick and my grandparents lived in Prestwick. We used to watch the flights on a Sunday afternoon. This is not new. [

Interruption

.] I had an exciting life as a child.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Was there nothing on the telly?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

There were very few televisions in those days. [

Laughter

.]

The First Minister:

I have to say that no grief that I get in this session of First Minister’s questions is going to equal the grief that I am going to get from my mother for what I have just said.

This is a serious issue, but it is work that Prestwick airport has been doing for 80 years. Let us come back to the fundamental point: the airport would not be open right now if this Government had not stepped in to save it. We want to get it back into private hands as soon as possible, but, because of the action taken by this Government, it is open and providing employment to lots of people in Prestwick and further afield in Ayrshire.

The Presiding Officer:

I have quite a lot of requests for supplementaries. I call Alex Cole-Hamilton.