The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17190, in the name of Colin Smyth, on Scotland’s future: scrap the cut to the air departure tax. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call Colin Smyth to speak to and move the motion.
Last week, the Scottish Government made a welcome, if overdue, commitment to strengthening our emissions reduction targets and to accepting the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation of a target of net zero emissions by 2045. Labour welcomes that decision, as a target of net zero emissions has been our position for some time and reflects the urgency of the climate emergency that we face. However, those targets are not worth the paper they are written on if they are not backed by the policies that are needed to deliver them.
That is why the Scottish National Party’s proposal to cut air departure tax was not only the wrong policy when it ditched it on the eve of this debate but the wrong policy when it was proposed in the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto. It has been the wrong policy every day since then, as SNP minister after SNP minister has queued up to justify the policy and attack Labour when we have questioned it.
“not now compatible with the more ambitious targets that Scotland wishes to pursue”, but it never was compatible, and Labour’s long-standing calls to drop the cut have been vindicated by the SNP’s U-turn on the issue.
That U-turn should have been made a long time ago, because the Scottish Government’s own analysis has consistently predicted that a 50 per cent cut in air departure tax would be bad for the environment, adding more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent to the atmosphere each year. The strategic environmental assessment of the policy raised concerns that a cut to ADT would drive a modal shift away from rail towards short-haul flights, yet it is only now that the SNP seems to realise that pursuing policies that would actively increase emissions from transport is damaging to the environment.
The answer to that question is no. Nobody believes that Derek Mackay’s proposal for a workplace parking levy was anything other than a fig leaf to cover the brutal cuts to council budgets that the Scottish Government is pursuing.
The problem with the regressive workplace parking levy, under which a company boss will pay—[
The Labour Party put its policy to its conference; the SNP did not. Derek Mackay sneaked the policy through in the budget because he knows that it is a regressive tax under which a company boss will pay the same as a company cleaner and the chief executive of a health board will be exempt but a carer on the living wage will have to stump up. The only thing that a workplace parking levy will do is ignite a public backlash that will undermine proper changes to the environment that we need to make in the future. I presume that that is why we have still not seen the cabinet secretary’s proposals for that tax.
Transport already contributes over a third of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is the single biggest sectoral contributor, with emission levels barely any lower than they were in 1990 and higher than they were in 2016. When it comes to transport and the environment, the Scottish Government has been moving in the wrong direction.
Excuse me a minute, Mr Smyth. There is a wee debate going on between the Glasgow MSPs on the back benches. I ask them to show some respect to the member who is leading the debate. I am sorry, Mr Smyth. I will make up your time.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I presume that they are working out how much the SNP’s proposed workplace parking levy will be.
When it comes to transport and the environment, the Government is moving in the wrong direction. Airline passenger numbers are higher than ever before—at Scotland’s airports, they have increased by 40 per cent since 2010—yet the level of bus use continues to plummet and active travel rates are stuck at less than 2 per cent. Domestic air travel is the least environmentally friendly of all the modes of transport: it has higher emissions per passenger kilometre than any other. In 2016, aviation was responsible for emitting more than 2 megatonnes of CO2
, which was an increase on the previous year and 50 per cent more than the levels in 1990.
A cut in ADT would continue to drive such emissions up, which would have been bad not only for the environment but for our public services, too. A 50 per cent cut in ADT would have cost £150 million a year, and the cost of abolishing it was likely to have been more than double that, which would have meant more than £300 million of cuts to our public services that they simply could not have afforded. It would also have been a tax cut that would have benefited the most well off, with the richest 10 per cent of people being almost three times more likely to fly in any year than those on the lowest incomes. In contrast, lower-income groups are disproportionately dependent on bus services, walking and cycling. Yet, the recent Scottish budget saw spending on those modes of travel frozen while, at the same, the SNP continued to argue for a £150 million cut to ADT, which is three times the total amount of support that is available for buses through the bus service operators grant.
I recognise the economic and strategic value of aviation, but we need to support it in a way that is responsible, sustainable and—crucially—in keeping with our broader transport and environmental aims. That means, for example, supporting Glasgow airport with the establishment of a direct rail link to cut car usage on the M8. It does not mean pursuing support for airports that increase emissions and drive passengers away from greener modes of transport such as cross-border rail.
“honour the commitment made in the manifesto it stood on in 2016 and introduce a reduction in Scotland's current ADT regime”.
The problem for the Tories is that, in calling for the SNP to honour its manifesto commitment, they are dumping their own. The 2016 Scottish Conservative manifesto was very clear. On air passenger duty, it said:
That Tory tax commission also stated that
“the only impact of a reduction of APD would be to boost airline and airport profits”.
So, at a time when the world is declaring a climate emergency—
I can tell Mr Harvie that our manifesto commitment was very clear—and we have stuck to it, while it seems that the SNP and the Tories have been dropping theirs.
I welcome the SNP’s change in position on ADT. However, at a time when the world is declaring a climate emergency, the Scottish Tories are declaring themselves climate change deniers. Their response to rising transport emissions is to call for them to be raised even further. While the Tories move in the direction of Donald Trump on climate change, Scotland needs to do more and move faster in the direction of lower emissions. That means ditching not just the cut in air departure tax but other damaging policies including the brutal cuts that we have seen being made to local councils by the Scottish Government.
Since 2011, council budgets have been slashed by more than £1.5 billion, and that cut continues in this year’s budget, which will devastate local services. We see that picture clearly in transport. Across Scotland, bus services are being dismantled route by route—often as a direct result of funding pressures on councils, and particularly in rural communities in which subsidised services are a lifeline for many. Likewise, cuts to local authority budgets are having an impact on active travel. If we are serious about reducing emissions from cars, the way to achieve that is to put in place affordable alternatives.
If transport is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, agriculture is not far behind it. That sector is of huge importance to the Scottish economy, particularly in rural and remote areas, but it is also one of the hardest to treat as far as emissions are concerned. The current support system does little to encourage—much less enforce—best practice on emissions and sustainability, yet the Government is dragging its heels in redesigning agricultural support to take account of—
Just stop for a minute, please, Mr Smyth. I am looking at the motion, and it seems that I may have been quite lax in allowing you to continue. The motion refers only to the abolition of air departure tax, but you are now talking about cows and things. We have therefore moved off the topic a wee bit. You should be winding up anyway, so please do so.
I will refrain from arguing the link between the two, Presiding Officer.
Over the past 200 years, humans have shown that they can change the climate—unfortunately, it has been for the worse. We have a far shorter time in which to recognise the climate emergency that we face and to change our environment for the better. The Government’s U-turn on air departure tax is a welcome step on that journey, but Labour also recognises that other changes can be made and that there is still a long, long way to go and a lot more change is needed.
That the Parliament calls on the Scottish Government to abandon its policy to cut, then abolish, the Air Departure Tax.
To be fair, Colin Smyth has at least shown himself to be agile enough to amend his speech in the light of circumstances.
We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and business as usual will not do. In its new report, which was published last week, the Committee on Climate Change said that Scotland should set a 2045 target for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases. This Government has been and will continue to be a world leader on climate change. As such, we have embraced the CCC’s new report in full, acting immediately to amend the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill not only to set a net zero target for 2045 but to increase the targets for 2030 and 2040.
It will not be easy to meet those targets; it will require difficult decisions to be made—Parliament needs to be prepared for that—including on the Government’s policy on air departure tax, which was deferred to ensure that it was not devolved in, as the UK Government admitted, a defective state. To protect rural communities, we must find a solution to the Highlands and Islands exemption before we can take on the tax, and the Scottish Government will continue to work with the UK Government on a solution.
It has been a long-standing policy of this Government to reduce ADT by 50 per cent and to abolish it when resources allow. However, we have always sought to balance the economic benefits that the policy can bring with the impact on the environment. The Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill itself placed a duty on ministers to consider the economic, environmental and social impacts before setting the rates and bands and to keep the matter under review. Following the First Minister’s declaration of a climate emergency and the new emissions reduction targets for Scotland, we are committed to looking across the whole range of our responsibilities and increasing action, where necessary, and we have come to the conclusion that the economic benefits that we have sought through our ADT policy are not compatible with our new emissions reduction targets.
The Government has not taken that decision lightly, but we have recognised that it is an important first step towards meeting our tougher climate targets and rising to the climate challenge.
As I have said, the environment secretary and other ministers will look at appropriate policy responses with regard to our overall suite of policies, but this is an important and significant first step.
I have seen much of Murdo Fraser’s pontification about the air departure tax and air passenger duty, and Colin Smyth is right: the position in the Tories’ manifesto was that they were not convinced about the need for a reduction in the tax. The Tories need to be careful what they wish for, because the tax cuts that they have planned now total more than three quarters of a billion pounds. If they are so concerned about APD, I should point out that the UK Government will continue those rates in the UK after failing to devolve it properly to Scotland. The evidence that we have seen has led us to conclude that such a tax cut is incompatible with our ambitious climate change targets, and it is only the Tories who are going in the opposite direction.
Thank you. I recognise that the Government wants to look at its wider range of policies, but is it not clear that, if a tax measure that boosts faster aviation growth is incompatible with climate change policies, so is any other measure that does the same? Is the Government committed to stabilising aviation levels?
Aviation emissions actually account for a relatively small amount of Scotland’s overall carbon emissions. The decision on ADT alone will have little impact if it is taken in isolation, so we will have to look at the range of policies that the Government has. If we are serious about the climate emergency, all of us in Parliament need to look at our policies and take the appropriate actions to meet the ambitious climate change targets.
I agree with Colin Smyth that there is no point in having the targets if we are not putting in place the actions to get there. That is why it is significant that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will make a statement to Parliament on the challenges involved in meeting the new targets.
We must take all appropriate action. On finance, we are committed to increasing the share of capital expenditure on low-carbon projects year on year to ensure that investment in infrastructure matches our ambition. As part of the budget agreement with the Greens, local authorities will be empowered to implement workplace parking levies to reduce emissions and encourage modal shift. If the Labour Party is serious in its efforts to tackle climate change and if this debate is to be more than just political commentary, the Labour Party needs to be prepared to recognise that its policies and reactions must also change and that difficult decisions are required. It should now drop its opposition to empowering councils through the workplace parking levy.
Tackling the climate emergency requires decisive action. The Government is up for that challenge, and I hope that others are, too.
I move amendment S5M-17190.1, to leave out from “abandon” to end and insert:
“review its policies and commitments in response to the global climate emergency and the Committee on Climate Change Report; believes that the Scottish Government should maintain its commitment to increasing the share of capital expenditure spent on low-carbon projects year on year; agrees that local authorities must be more empowered to tackle climate change and pursue policies and investments that are designed to encourage modal shift, such as the workplace parking levy and low emission zones, and further agrees that cutting and then abolishing Air Departure Tax is not now compatible with the more ambitious targets that Scotland wishes to pursue.”
This very second, I am reading straight from the Scottish National Party’s website, in a section that is ironically named “Scotland: open for business”:
“We ... want to increase international connectivity and support our thriving tourist industry, so we’ll use new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament to halve Air Passenger Duty, one of the highest taxes of its kind in the world, and ultimately abolish it.”
What has changed? The much trumpeted and long-awaited reduction to the tax has been canned. It was a flagship policy that the SNP praised and defended to the hilt, but SNP members are all now frantically looking on social media to delete their tweets. Nicola Sturgeon is trying to walk a political tightrope. In one breath, she promises support for tourism, aviation, oil and gas and exports while declaring emergencies in another. She is giving hostages to fortune with policy changes that are bereft of intelligent scrutiny and the consequences of which have either been ignored or simply misunderstood.
Yesterday, Gordon Dewar of Edinburgh airport put it simply when he said:
“We’ve gone from personal commitments to all-out cancellation in ... two weeks, which shows just how reactionary this decision is.”
He went on:
“airports and airlines have been led down a path of failed promises for three years by this Scottish government.”
Those are his angry words, not mine.
Last night, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, which is a sensible voice of business—[
.] Some members do not think that it is sensible, which is a shame. Thank goodness they are not in government. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said that the decision had been taken
“Despite years of consultation ... and detailed technical and economic evaluations”, and that the decision will
“do nothing to reduce emissions”, but instead will
“cut Scotland off at the knees”.
What credible Government proactively does that to the business community? It is not one that those of us on the Conservative benches will sit in.
Please sit down.
It is a monumental U-turn that is politically motivated and convenient. It is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to a serious and complex problem. It is a decision that flies in the face of the Government’s own policy and advice and it does nothing to address the flawed logic at the heart of its rationale.
The issue has never been and nor should it ever be about whether members support the aviation industry or the environment, because we desperately need to support both. As a country, we need the business travellers who come and invest here and tourists who come and spend money here. What is wrong with giving hard-pressed families a helping hand on their well-deserved break?
Derek Mackay knows that the whole point of devolution is that this Parliament should make the right decisions for Scotland, and he has made the wrong decision today.
It is, at best, naive and, at worst, disingenuous to single out any one industry in such a specific and uninformed way, with the cabinet secretary having done no consultation, no analysis and no economic forecasting.
What galls people the most is the sheer hypocrisy from the SNP. It thinks that it is right for people in the Highlands and Islands to be exempt from the tax, that it is right to back Heathrow expansion and that it is right to send rockets to space from our peninsula. However, in one simple act of ill-thought-through policy reversal, the SNP has shown itself for what it really is: no friend of business and no friend of Scotland’s tourism industry.
Today, we could have had a sensible, informed and balanced debate about the future of aviation and the future of our economy. Instead, the First Minister has turned the issue into a polarised game of political brinkmanship. The only losers of that game will be Scottish businesses, Scottish jobs and hard-working Scottish families. This is a sad U-turn that the Government will live to regret.
I move amendment S5M-17190.4, to leave out from “calls” to end and insert:
“notes the benefits of a competitive Air Departure Tax (ADT) regime; recognises that a reduction in this taxation for long-haul flights is essential for the retention and development of new intercontinental routes and economic ties across the world with a view to boost trade, tourism and inward investment into Scotland; understands that the devolution of ADT is a critical economic lever to achieve this, and calls on the Scottish Government to honour the commitment made in the manifesto it stood on in 2016 and introduce a reduction in Scotland’s current ADT regime.”
I have had many opportunities to speak in the chamber against an aviation tax cut, before and since the devolution of such powers were, theoretically, agreed. The policy has clearly been dead for quite some time now, and I am delighted to finally have the chance to speak in a debate in celebration of its ultimate burial.
As far back as 2012, as soon as the Scottish Government proposed the policy, we made the very clear case against it. We showed that it would hurt the revenues that fund Scottish public services if the tax was reduced once the powers were devolved. We challenged the Government to say where that cost would come from, but we did not get a response. At a time when the Scottish Government was still carrying on with the delusional nonsense that the tax cut would somehow reduce emissions, it was Green questions to ministers that forced the Government to admit that such a policy would do the opposite and lead to an increase in emissions from aviation.
Through our work with the fellow travellers campaign group, we showed that the policy would demonstrably benefit the better-off. In any one year, the large majority of people in Scotland do not fly at all, so they would gain no benefit from the tax cut. Of those people who do fly, most fly once or twice a year, so the vast bulk of the tax cut would go to the tiny number of wealthy frequent flyers, who would gain disproportionately from the policy.
I welcome the fact that there has been such movement since the debate in 2012. Back then, we were the only political party that made the coherent climate argument against the policy. There were individuals, including Malcolm Chisholm and Willie Rennie, who recognised the strength of our argument but, ultimately, only Alison Johnstone and I voted for the Green amendment on that occasion. The Labour Party voted with the Government on its unamended motion. It is important to recognise and welcome the fact that the SNP and Labour have changed their views.
I also want to welcome how far the Conservative Party has come, because it has made the most extraordinary change in the space of just one week. Last week, the Conservatives made a wee video for their social media in which they claimed that the Greens have never achieved any environmental change since the SNP has been in Government. Now, following this one policy announcement, the Conservatives say that the SNP has succumbed once again to the environmental extremists. I thank the Conservative Party for recognising the impact of the Greens.
We can see the positive effects of that Green influence in the Scottish Government’s amendment today. The commitment to shift the balance of the capital budget away from high-carbon industries towards low-carbon industries is a concession to Green policy. There is a commitment to a workplace parking levy, which was introduced originally by Labour and was included in Scottish Labour local manifestos in recent years, but which is now opposed by Labour only because it is being introduced by the wrong political party.
We must make the longer-term case that aviation cannot be given a free pass. We all recognise that lifeline flights to the islands, for example, are a special case, but aircraft efficiency alone will not reduce emissions if we keep on flying more. If the whole world flew as much as we do in this country, there would be zero chance of averting climate disaster.
If ADT cuts are unacceptable as a means to boost aviation growth, so are other methods. The Scottish Government must drop its commitment to support the Heathrow third runway and other means of boosting aviation, and commit instead to public transport and to the investment in walking and cycling that would make a real difference to people getting about sustainably right across Scotland.
I thank Colin Smyth for bringing the debate to Parliament. Notwithstanding the finance secretary’s last-minute U-turn yesterday, I confirm that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support Mr Smyth’s motion, not least because it reflects our party’s consistently-held position on the air departure tax.
We will not, however, support either of the amendments. I am afraid that the Tory’s position on ADT seems to have been crafted by the same brains trust that brought us Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit position. It therefore risks damaging the environment while also failing to satisfy the airline industry. As for the Government’s amendment, I am afraid that Mr Mackay—reasonable as he ever is—cannot get away with rewriting history. He is right; cutting and abolishing ADT is certainly not compatible with the more ambitious climate change targets that we wish to set, but it was not compatible with the previous climate change targets either.
No. I am sorry.
The truth is that this policy has never been compatible with our climate change ambitions, and no amount of re-setting the clock by Mr Mackay—and all the other Ministers lined up as supporters of his amendment—will persuade the chamber or the public otherwise.
The justification for giving the airline industry a £250 million tax break was always dubious. Against the backdrop of rising passenger numbers and an expanding network of routes, the SNP’s decision to offer such a massive windfall looked reckless. What was the evidence for that move? Therein lies a tale.
I note that Keith Brown is not among those listed as supporters of the Government’s new position. That is a shame, because it was he who, when asked in a written question back in 2013 what the evidence for the policy was, pointed my colleague Willie Rennie in the direction of the easyJet website. Helpfully, a report commissioned by British Airways, easyJet, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair could be found there. Surprisingly, they thought that there was only an upside to a £250 million tax cut to the airline industry. Who knew? Massive economic benefits and little environmental impact was too good to be true, surely.
Clearly, even SNP Ministers thought so, as an independent expert group was then consulted. Sadly, that group comprised 15 airline and airport representatives and one, lone environmental voice. SNP Ministers seemed determined to load the dice. By contrast, when the Government went out to public consultation on its proposals, half the respondents raised concerns or objections, principally around the environmental impact. The other main concern, of course, was the impact that the tax giveaway would have on funding available for key public services: education, health, policing and even support to help to decarbonise our transport system.
The audacious attempt by the Scottish Government to raid its own coffers cannot be laid at the feet of Westminster. The move had the SNP’s fingerprints all over it. Even after yesterday’s U-turn, the First Minister needs to explain how her full-throated support for a third runway at Heathrow squares with her new-found acceptance of the climate emergency.
I accept that we need an airline industry that is in good health. Given the constituency that I represent, how could I do otherwise? There is also a strong case for reducing taxes and costs on certain types of air service that provide a lifeline—usually a pretty expensive one—for remote rural and island communities. However, there is a world of difference between that sort of targeted intervention and the sort of windfall that was previously being offered up by the SNP—and is still being backed by the Tories. I welcome the Government’s decision to abandon that reckless policy, however belatedly, and reiterate my support for the motion in Colin Smyth’s name.
Last week was a truly significant time for the Parliament and the country, as the Scottish Government agreed to up its ambition and shift its long-term emissions reduction targets in line with the advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change. The target of net zero emissions by 2045 is, indeed, world leading, feasible, cost-effective and necessary. Scottish Labour has, with others, led the way on the matter.
I am delighted that pressure from Scottish Labour has led to the Scottish Government changing its mind about cutting air departure tax, which is a money saver for the wealthy that would have been, in carbon terms, the equivalent of 30,000 new cars on the road. It was always a regressive policy, so it is welcome that the cabinet secretary has come to recognise its social and environmental implications.
Of course, the necessity for swift climate action has been stark since publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report entitled “Global Warming of 1.5°C”. The damage that would be done by a rise of 2°C would be far reaching—it would turn dangerous extremes into normality and bring disaster to many. The target of an increase of no more than 1.5°C is an imperative for the global population’s health, livelihoods, peace and safety, and for the continuation of the natural world that we know, love and rely on.
Those issues are intersectional with class, race, gender and many other characteristics. I will focus briefly on race, having chaired a conference on climate justice at UN House at which representatives of the black lives matter movement spoke. Communities in the global south are adapting to climate change now, and seven out of 10 of the countries that are most vulnerable to its effects are in sub-Saharan Africa. However, those issues impact here at home, too. Black British Africans are 28 per cent more likely than their white counterparts to be exposed to air pollution. The black lives matter protest at London City airport highlighted the climate injustice in the existence of an airport for the elite polluting a low-income London community and exacerbating climate change in the global south.
Alterations to ADT would have included cuts for short-haul flights for which there are rail alternatives, including to the continent via the Eurostar. That would likely have had a significant impact on the rail sector. For example, greater choice in short-haul flights at lower prices could displace rail movements, which is the opposite of the modal shift that the Scottish Government needs to encourage in order to deliver a sustainable transport system.
Scottish Labour can suggest a number of other ways to deliver that modal shift. We would stop the cuts to councils that are devastating public transport links and active travel schemes. We need more on-road segregated cycle schemes. We would introduce a young person’s bus pass to encourage a long-term modal shift, we would strengthen legislation on low-emission zones, and we would promote public ownership of the transport system, so that profits could be spent on improving services, lowering fares and delivering greener vehicles.
The UK CCC report emphasised that good policy design is vital to our ability to reach net zero emissions. We parliamentarians must now apply stricter tests to all policies, with due regard being given to their environmental and social externalities. Such considerations will elevate Scotland to the progressive place that we want it to occupy.
This is a challenging and exciting time, and lately the Government has made two welcome shifts in its original policies. All parties must scrutinise their policies as we go forward towards net zero emissions. That mentality should be rolled out across all sectors to give stable long-term direction.
I look forward to the Government’s review of all policies in its new climate change plan, and to contributing to it. We are, indeed, experiencing a climate emergency, so we must act together.
Labour’s motion is interesting, and I will talk about each part of it in turn. However, before I do, I want to acknowledge the fact that my committee colleague, Claudia Beamish, has been a robust challenger of policy and a robust influencer in her party, as—I think—is evident.
The first line of the motion asks the Scottish Government to review its policies in response to the global climate emergency. At First Minister’s question time last week, Nicola Sturgeon said that she would review all policy areas in respect of our increased ambition to tackle climate change. Just over an hour ago, the First Minister responded positively, saying directly to me that all cabinet secretaries will take ownership of the Government’s commitment on action to reach the net zero emissions target.
Of course, that comes off the back of the Government’s acceptance of the main recommendations of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s report on the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, which include accepting the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change and producing a new climate change plan within 6 months of royal assent.
It is interesting to note that, in the middle of the motion, Labour calls for local authorities to be more empowered to tackle climate change. We have a recent example of the Government doing just that, when it gave local authorities the power to introduce a car parking levy, although only local authorities in cities with good public transport infrastructure will, I think, see fit to use that power. Rural councils including Aberdeenshire Council have opted not to use it—Aberdeenshire does not yet have a public transport infrastructure that would mean that people could completely ditch their cars. I agree with that decision, which shows exactly why such decisions must be made at local level.
However, here is the weird thing: after the Government decided to give local authorities that discretionary power, James Kelly was out and about campaigning against it, quite against the views of his colleagues. Councillor Cammy Day, who heads the Labour group on the City of Edinburgh Council, disagrees with him. He has said:
“We have argued councils need powers like the tourist tax and the workplace parking levy ... It’s not about taxing cars, it’s about creating a new environment for people to work, live and enjoy the city.”
Finally, let us consider the motion’s main title, “Scotland’s Future”. As we wait—and wait and wait—for the UK Government’s response to the advice on targets from the UK Committee on Climate Change, we are met with a wall of silence about the policies that the Tory Government will pursue in order to meet its advised targets. I am therefore yet more convinced that Scotland’s future must be as an independent country that has all the levers available to it to make agile and meaningful decisions, such as the one that it has just made on ADT and—
Excuse me, Ms Martin.
Could members please ensure that they use their time to address the motion and amendments that are under discussion? This is not the first contribution in which that has not happened.
With the powers that it already has at its disposal, Scotland has a reputation for being a world leader on tackling climate change. This week’s decision is proof of that agile working.
I also asked the First Minister about the importance of the UK Government committing to the targets that the CCC has advised that it should set. She pointed out three areas that the UK Government has been asked specifically to address: decarbonisation of the gas network; commitment to investing in carbon capture and storage technology; and an earlier date for electrification of cars, potentially in line with the Scottish Government’s date of 2032.
The motion suggests that Labour is fully on board with supporting areas of devolved and local authority powers that it previously did not support, and I look forward—
I note my interest as a co-convener of the cross-party group on aviation, and I express my surprise at being here today to debate the SNP Government’s U-turn on yet another of its flagship policies. Not only am I concerned about the
SNP Government again going back on its word—which was freely given—but it is no exaggeration to say that business leaders from across Scotland are queuing up to condemn this anti-business, anti-tourism and anti-people SNP Government.
People in Ayr will not understand why the Scottish Government—which owns Prestwick airport—just made it even more difficult to fly aeroplanes to and from that remarkable strategically-placed airport. My constituents will not forgive this SNP Government for breaking the promise that it made to do all that it could to help Prestwick airport to grow and succeed, because air departure tax affects regional airports such as Prestwick, Aberdeen and Dundee most adversely.
Instead, the 300 or so trusted and valued employees at Prestwick airport will today be wondering for how long they will have a job at all, given Ryanair's anger at the broken promise, which affects all their flights to and from Scotland, and not just those to and from Prestwick.
I was in Dublin on the day in April 2014 on which Michael O’Leary announced that he had persuaded the Irish Government to abolish air passenger duty. He said that he would increase the Irish Government’s tax take from tourism through increased VAT receipts if it abolished APD. Michael O’Leary did just that; tourists visiting Ireland increased by 3.3 million in the first year after APD was abolished.
At the time, the then Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay, was so impressed that he told the
Daily Record that
“more investment would be possible if APD ... was to be scrapped” in Scotland. I ask the cabinet secretary whether there is consistency there.
We are witnessing the SNP again dividing Scotland into those who are for Scotland’s business development and the SNP—which is, it appears, supported by the Labour Party and now the Liberals, as well, who are against business development.
The cabinet secretary should not take my word for it.
No, I will not.
The cabinet secretary should listen to Scottish Chambers of Commerce, which has roundly condemned the SNP Government for going back on its word. Listen to Gordon Dewar of Edinburgh Airport, which runs Scotland’s most successful airport. He said that the decision
“does not show leadership and means airports and airlines have been led down a path of failed promises for three years by this Scottish government.”'
The SNP Government has shown again that it does not keep its promises; instead, it makes promises in order to win elections and then goes back on them.
My constituents in Ayrshire and others in Aberdeenshire and Dundee will be outraged by yet another failure to deliver by the Scottish Government, as their business connections and holiday destination choices have just got harder and more expensive because of their Government’s actions.
Of course we all know that the threat of climate change needs to be addressed, but the Scottish Government’s virtue signalling is not the way to go about it. [
The aviation industry is already cleaning up its act on greenhouse gas emissions more quickly than almost any other industry.
The Government is allowing itself to be driven by the Green Party agenda, as it was similarly with the proposed imposition of a workplace car parking charging scheme. The SNP and the Greens will pay the price at the ballot box as they displace jobs and tourism from Scotland at the same time as they reduce the choice of easily accessible tourist destinations from Scotland.
There has always been a fairly fine balance between seeking to boost our tourism sector with lower air departure tax, which would, we hope, encourage visitors to come to Scotland, and wanting to tackle climate change and protect the environment, which makes us lean towards discouraging flying as a means of travel by keeping or even raising taxes such as ADT.
Let me go on a little longer.
There is also the factor that, if we want better public services in a time of very tight finances, we need to raise tax, and certainly not cut it. Cutting tax means further restrictions on spending, as the Conservative Party well knows.
The reality is that we should all be taking climate change more seriously than we may have done in the past. We cannot stick rigidly to policies that seemed right in the past. It is the sign of a mature Parliament and a mature Government that we can learn and adapt to circumstances.
Other parties also need to consider their positions. The aim of the workplace parking levy—and maybe a levy on parking in other places, too—is to discourage the use of cars and get more people to use public transport. Again, there is a balance to be struck. People want to use their cars, and we have a democracy, so we can restrict car use only to the extent that the public will accept it.
Not from Mr Kerr, if he is going to be cheeky.
That is not to say there should be no change from how things have been done in the past. We in the SNP seem to find ourselves in the middle ground on a number of issues. The Greens, whom I admire for their idealism, want to go much further than the public are prepared for. On the other hand, Labour and the Tories oppose the likes of a workplace parking levy—I presume that that is because it came from the SNP and the Greens.
Does Mr Mason think that the new wave of direct action and activism, from the school strikers to extinction rebellion, demonstrates that the public are ready for us to go further than many politicians have previously thought possible?
Yes, I think that that is correct and that the public mood is changing, but the public are not ready to have cars abolished tomorrow night, as some of Patrick Harvie’s colleagues might want.
There has been some fairly extreme comment on the decision not to cut ADT, not least from Scottish Chambers of Commerce. It said that we need balance and we need to reach a balanced judgment. However, it also said that the decision will
“cut Scotland off at the knees”.
That is clearly nonsense, and I would have expected better from Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Both our tourism sector and the number of flight destinations from Scotland, which has increased, are doing well, perhaps better than we had expected when the policy to cut ADT was introduced. Many factors other than the tax affect the number of flights and passengers. For example, Manchester airport draws on a larger population base than Scottish airports do.
I have some sympathy for the Green amendment, which was not chosen for debate today. Expansion at Heathrow airport might provide more onward flights for travellers from Scotland, but it could undermine the aim to get more direct flights to Scotland and, on top of that, is likely to have a negative effect on the environment. If recent developments mean that we are re-examining previous decisions, perhaps expansion at Heathrow is another policy to be re-examined.
As has been mentioned, the Conservative amendment refers to manifesto commitments. I think that the Conservatives’ 2016 manifesto said that they would not support an APD cut. One of the strengths of the Parliament is that no party has a majority and every party needs to compromise and find common ground. As an SNP MSP, I find that disappointing at times but, as a democrat and a parliamentarian, I find it extremely good. An ability to adapt, compromise and negotiate is a good thing. We do not see that with Theresa May at Westminster, but I hope that it is something that we see at Holyrood.
The estimated value that was placed on air departure tax being cut by 50 per cent was £150 million. If we take the cut to the conclusion that the Conservatives would like, the value would be £300 million. Where would that money have come from? Where would the cuts in public services have taken place? The fact that the Conservatives come here to shout about that, when we know that their budgets cuts would have taken another £500 million or £600 million out of public services in Scotland, surely leaves them with no credibility whatsoever.
Whatever reasons have brought about the U-turn in Government policy, they must be welcomed. We have got to recognise that, as we address the climate crisis in this country, we must do so in a fair and equitable way. Indeed, a transition to a zero-carbon economy must surely be part of a broader programme to redistribute wealth and power in Scotland.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow UK business secretary, pointed out that
“Britain is already one the most unequal and regionally divided countries in Europe. Poorly implemented, economic transitions threaten to further impoverish the poorest parts of the country that are already suffering the worst effects of de-industrialisation and austerity. If climate policy does not fundamentally address these problems it not only risks accentuating them, but will also never receive mass support from Britain’s working people.”
Surely one of the key objectives of every political party in the Parliament should be to build mass support across the country for tackling the climate crisis. That is why I say to the SNP that of course we should be working together to tackle the climate crisis, but we will not line up to support a half-baked policy that has not been thought through. The proposed workplace parking levy is such a policy. It will attack working people and threaten their jobs. For example, workers at Babcock International in Rosyth travel there from all over Fife, where there is not a good public transport system in place.
If the member reads the SNP amendment, he will see that my comments have got absolutely everything to do with the motion and the SNP amendment.
Workers at Diageo who travel from all over Fife—and, indeed, from much further afield than Mid Scotland and Fife—would end up having to pay a workplace parking levy.
The policy has not been thought through properly and it would hurt workers.
I have looked at Nottingham, where a workplace parking levy has been brought in. Emissions in Nottingham city centre have not been drastically cut as a result of the policy.
I welcome the Government’s decision to back down on this—
Planned reductions to air departure tax have been in the pipeline for several years now. They were the subject of long-standing commitments by the Scottish Government and were a flagship transport policy that gave Scotland’s business community some reassurance that the SNP had an interest in and an understanding of our country’s economy and the need to create a more global Scotland.
As a member for the Highlands and Islands and an Orcadian, I have seen at first hand the benefits of the APD exemption and the wider positive impact on the region. It has been crucial to the growth of services in and around my region, where flights, especially those that serve the islands, can be prohibitively expensive.
However, although the Highlands and Islands exemption is crucial, it is not enough in itself. As my fellow Highland MSP Kate Forbes observed as the ADT bill was progressing, national reduction of ADT promised to have a
“direct and positive impact on families in the Highlands.”—[
, 25 April 2017; c 87.]
Does Kate Forbes as a minister believe that that is no longer true? If we accept the importance of our regional exemption, why would we assume that those same benefits would not accrue significantly from a national reduction?
I am going to move on.
It is frankly ridiculous that the Scottish Government is now ignoring the benefits of effective, affordable connectivity after so many years of making the case for it. However, what is of greater concern is this: if the SNP is now targeting air travel to meet climate goals, how long will the Highlands and Islands exemption remain?
I ask for an assurance from the Scottish Government in its summing up that the Highlands and Islands exemption is not under threat and that it is still committed to reducing ferry fares on the northern isles routes. However, as we have heard, the aviation sector was given assurances only a couple of weeks ago but yesterday learned that those assurances meant nothing.
Yesterday, looking like a man who had been sent out to deliver news that he did not really agree with, the finance secretary, Derek Mackay, desperately tried to shift blame for his Government’s failure on to the UK Government. However, would he really have us believe that, had the reductions been delivered two years ago, he would yesterday have reintroduced full ADT?
Specifically in relation to what has changed, should we not all reflect on the advice from the Committee on Climate Change, which has now said that—unlike previously, when it said that cutting ADT was manageable in terms of emissions—not cutting ADT makes our job of meeting the ambitious climate change targets easier? Should we not respond in the light of that information?
I thought that the reason was climate change, as the cabinet secretary has repeatedly stated, but okay.
A policy has been fully reversed in just two weeks. Is this a genuine climate change-focused move by the SNP? Is the Nicolacopter permanently grounded? Are its days of ferrying the First Minister between party engagements finally over? Probably not, because this is not about climate change. It is all about political gamesmanship. It is headline-grabbing hypocrisy from a Government that still rightly backs our oil and gas sector and still rightly—well, probably—backs expansion of Heathrow airport.
I have another question that I ask the Government to address in its summing up. Given that the U-turn will seriously impact on businesses across Scotland, most notably in the aviation sector, and given that the Scottish Government owns a number of airports, can the cabinet secretary or minister confirm that the correct procedures for releasing commercially sensitive information have been followed and that neither Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd nor Prestwick Airport was given any advance notice of the decision?
ADT is not an effective tax against climate change. It is a tax on Scotland’s links to the world. The finance secretary once spoke about an ADT reduction
“boosting trade, investment, influence and networks” for Scotland. The Scottish Government spent many years as evangelists for Scotland’s connectivity. Now the “strategic assets” of air travel in Scotland have suddenly become regrettable polluters in SNP eyes. Where does that leave its transport policies? What is the price for Scotland’s connectivity and its economy?
There can be no doubt that Scotland is a world leader in tackling climate change. The Government has ensured that fracking and underground coal gasification will have no place in Scotland’s energy mix. We have already halved greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy.
As shown by yesterday’s announcement, we have listened to the evidence and decided not to proceed with plans to cut air departure tax. That will have been a difficult decision for the Government, but it shows that the SNP is taking the climate emergency far more seriously than other parties.
Global climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and we are now at a defining moment. I sincerely hope that all parties are prepared to rise to the challenge that has been brilliantly laid down by our younger generations, drop the knee-jerk opposition that might suit short-term politics, and unite behind doing what is right for the future of our planet. So far, however, the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats have shown little inclination to meet that challenge.
We have discussed the workplace parking levy a few times today. Under a Tory Government, councils in England already have the powers to introduce such a levy, which would support the Scottish Government’s ambition to reduce emissions. However, the Scottish Tories are steadfast in their opposition.
Labour introduced the policy in England, and it was implemented by the Labour council in Nottingham. It was supported by Glasgow and Edinburgh council candidates in 2017, and reportedly backed by Claudia Beamish, Labour’s spokesperson for environment, climate change and land reform. However, Scottish Labour is steadfast in its opposition.
When the provisions for a workplace parking levy were introduced by the Labour Party in the UK’s Transport Act 2000, the measures were supported by Liberal Democrat members of the UK Parliament. However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are steadfast in their opposition.
Despite what Alex Rowley says, according to Nottingham City Council’s portfolio holder for transport, the policy has helped to improve air quality and has contributed to falling nitrogen dioxide emissions largely due to the council’s investment in sustainable public transport, which was made possible with levy funding. Opposition parties really must stop playing political games on this issue, and must listen to the evidence
We also have Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory support for the UK’s nuclear weapon programme. We all know that the Tories are unashamedly obsessed—
It appears that some other parties are quite happy to endanger the climate in some ways, but making a fuss about air passenger duty is okay.
Meeting our climate change targets will mean that we have to raise our ambitions across the whole range of Government responsibilities. Yesterday’s decision showed that the SNP Government has listened and already taken decisive action. It is now time for the other parties to show that they also are willing to listen to the evidence and act. Opposition parties must refrain from simply opposing everything tough or challenging, such as the workplace parking levy, and step up to the plate. All members have to accept that positions might need to change in light of the climate emergency; it cannot simply be left to the Scottish Government. Every single one of us now needs to take more action—individuals, businesses, schools, communities, organisations, the Scottish Government and the UK Government—so let us work together and make that change.
There is still time to stop climate change, so let us put aside the party politics for once to ensure that we can save the planet for our future generations to enjoy. It does not look like I am going to get much support for that among the Opposition.
This has been a significant debate because of what it tells us about the cack-handed policy making within the SNP Government. These are the people who told us for years about the priority of cutting air departure tax. In 2016, the SNP said that it would halve the level of air passenger duty to support growth and improve connections across the globe. Every time we have a debate on tourism, connectivity or exporting, the SNP tells us how important that policy is. Now, it has ditched it.
I remember doing a hustings before the most recent Scottish election with Fergus Ewing, who promised the tourism sector that this important policy would be delivered. Only two weeks ago, apparently, the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes, was at Edinburgh airport giving Gordon Dewar a personal commitment that the policy would be maintained, but now it has all been abandoned, and all these people have been hung out to dry.
Not just now.
We have seen the reaction from the business community, which John Scott quoted. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said that the change in policy will
“cut Scotland off at the knees” in relation to connectivity and a competitive playing field.
The position shows the contrast between the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP under her predecessor, Alex Salmond, because at least Mr Salmond understood business in Scotland and at least he stood up for cuts to corporation tax and to ADT. The whole pro-business legacy of the SNP has been trashed under Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay. It is no wonder that business is turning away from the SNP and towards the Conservatives.
No, thank you.
We understand that the issue is important for connectivity, as Jamie Greene said. The SNP keeps telling us that it wants more powers to grow the economy, yet when it gets those powers, it either hands them back or does not use them at all, as in this case.
A number of speakers in the debate have quite properly raised the issue of climate change. It is precisely because of the concerns that we had around climate change that our policy on ADT reduction was different from the Scottish Government’s policy. We did not support a cut in ADT for domestic or short-haul flights precisely because we were concerned that that would lead to surface travel being less competitive than air travel. That is why the ADT cut that we propose would apply only to long-haul routes where there is no surface alternative or where at present people have to make extra journeys with connecting flights, rather than one journey straight into Scotland. Cutting ADT on long haul would open up Scotland to the world, bringing in the opportunity of new routes to north and central America and Asia, which can only be to our economic benefit.
It is that economic benefit that will deliver increases in additional tax revenues elsewhere.
No, thank you.
Increased taxation will come from income tax, through growing employment, and additional VAT will come from spending. Indeed, John Scott pointed out that the experience in Ireland shows that countries can grow their tax revenues by cutting ADT. Alex Rowley should look at that experience.
The position of the Labour Party causes me some concern. The Labour Party seems to be saying that air travel should once again become the preserve of the rich and should not be available to ordinary working people. It is only in comparatively recent times—over the past three decades—that air travel has become affordable for ordinary families. The first time that I was on a plane was when I was 21, which was not unusual for people of my generation. Many Scottish families did not have overseas holidays until well into the 1980s or 1990s.
Now the Labour Party in Scotland—the supposed party of the working class—seems to be saying that ordinary working families across Scotland should no longer have that opportunity. It seems to be saying that only the rich should be able to afford to fly and have overseas holidays.
There is a climate emergency, and the Scottish Government is acting accordingly. Our first step was to immediately lodge amendments to our Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill to set a net zero emissions target for 2045 in response to last week’s report from the Committee on Climate Change. Our next step is to look at the concrete actions that need to be taken as a result.
Unlike the Tories, we know that difficult decisions are required, and we are taking this seriously. Yesterday’s announcement on air departure tax makes that clear. Scotland has already shown leadership on this issue as the first country in the world to include a fair share of emissions from international aviation in our climate targets.
Our whole economy approach is working, with emissions almost halved since 1990. Aviation currently represents less than 5 per cent of Scotland’s total annual emissions, but that figure is growing, and even relatively small levels of emissions can be important when targets are very ambitious, as they are now.
Scotland’s current climate targets are already world leading, but we know that greater action is required. We are listening, and it is in that context that the Scottish Government has decided that reducing air departure tax is no longer compatible with having more ambitious climate targets.
In answer to some of the questions raised, members should be aware that, in 2017, the CCC advised that a 50 per cent reduction in ADT was likely to be manageable in terms of its emissions impact. This year, the chief executive said that a change in policy on ADT would help immensely with the emissions challenge. To be clear: we are still fully committed to taking on ADT once a solution to the Highlands and Islands exemption issue has been found, but we no longer plan to reduce the tax in support of our climate change targets.
I emphasise that aviation is only one part of the emissions picture. Meeting Scotland’s climate targets will require many difficult decisions across all areas of the economy and society, and Parliament needs to be prepared for that. The UK Committee on Climate Change has been stark in saying that its proposed new targets will require extensive changes across the economy. Our announcement yesterday, along with our commitment to increase the share of capital expenditure for low-carbon projects year on year, demonstrates that we are prepared to lead the way on those difficult decisions.
The time for action is now. It is not the time for short-term political point scoring, and I hope that proposals that will help us to reach our climate change goals, such as the workplace parking levy and low-emission zones, will be supported.
The Scottish Government has committed to updating the climate change plan within six months of the bill receiving royal assent. That means that we will look across our whole range of responsibilities and policies to ensure that we continue with the policies that are working and increase action where necessary. I hope that all parties in the chamber will approach it in the same way.
The next step will be in the summer. We will engage the public, communities, businesses, industries and the public sector in a discussion about what more can be done to address climate change.
We also need to discuss where further UK Government action is needed. The Committee on Climate Change has been clear that the delivery of net zero emissions in Scotland depends on increased UK Government action across policy areas that remain reserved.
The Scottish Government is committed to doing what is needed to limit global temperature rises, as we promised in our manifesto. We will not shy away from those difficult decisions.
It has been an interesting couple of days, watching the political gymnastics of SNP ministers. For three years, we have watched SNP front-bench members doggedly defend this policy of passing tax cuts to airlines while imposing cuts on public services. I am glad that, by lodging the motion for this debate, Scottish Labour has precipitated a change in the policy. It is the right move.
As Colin Smyth pointed out, having in place a policy to reduce ADT by 50 per cent would result in 60,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, which is contrary to an ambition to achieve climate change targets and tackle an objective of net zero emissions.
It was an unfair policy. It sought to pass tax cuts to airports, frequent flyers and those who are better off. In response to Murdo Fraser, I point out that nearly half of the Scottish public cannot afford to travel by air. They do not get anywhere near an airport. Some of them cannot even afford a holiday, so why should we design a policy to give tax cuts to frequent flyers?
Alex Rowley made an effective point about the effect of the policy on the Scottish budget, because a 50 per cent reduction in ADT would lead to a reduction in that budget of £150 million, and a full reduction in ADT would reduce the budget by £300 million.
As Liam McArthur said, the evidence base for the policy was lacking, and some of the evidence was written by the airlines themselves.
I will ask James Kelly a direct question. The information that we have received and the climate change targets—that we have all signed up to—give the Government cause to look at our policies. Is the Labour Party looking at its own policies in relation to climate change? Yes or no?
Of course, we are examining all our policies. As Claudia Beamish said, we need a sustainable transport policy that looks across all areas. That should start with rail. We need an operator that will give confidence to rail passengers that trains will turn up on time. We could also use £1 million of the £150 million that was proposed to be cut to save the jobs at the Caley rail depot and keep the jobs in Scotland.
We also need to look at the Transport (Scotland) Bill, which, as it is currently drafted, is a missed opportunity. There is too much power in the hands of the bus operators, which strip away routes from local communities. Over the past five years, we have seen bus fares increase by 11 per cent in real terms, whereas, since 2009, wages in this country have reduced by 1.5 per cent in real terms.
Alex Rowley made a relevant point on the workplace parking levy. We will not support regressive policies that mean that low-paid workers pay more tax.
In Scotland, 480,000 workers are not being paid the real living wage and we will not support a policy that means that they will have to pay more out of their paltry wage packets, making it more difficult for them to sustain and support their families.
This is a welcome U-turn from the Government but, to lower emissions, we must also look at other areas of transport policy. We need a proper rail service and we need a transport bill that gives more power to communities and takes power away from bus operators.