FMQs: Patrick Harvie demands full disclosure of US military operations at Prestwick airport

Harvie presses Nicola Sturgeon over what military actions have been facilitated by the Scottish Government asset

PATRICK HARVIE MSP, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, has demanded that the Scottish Government reveal what active US military operations have been facilitated by the publicly-owned Prestwick airport.

This follows an investigation by the Guardian newspaper that Prestwick has been used as a base for live missions by the US Air Force, raising concerns that a Scottish Government asset has been used in carrying out military actions which the SNP and Scottish Government have publicly opposed.

The Guardian investigation, published on Wednesday, also revealed that executives for Prestwick – which was taken in public ownership in 2013 - have enjoyed “close relations” with US President Donald Trump’s nearby resort at Turnberry, and that in 2015 officials from Transport Scotland lobbied Scottish ministers to meet with both US Air Force commanders and representatives of the Trump Organisation.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Harvie said: "When I last asked the first minister about the Scottish Government's oversight of publicly-owned Prestwick Airport, she told me very clearly the government had had no discussions about the relationship between the airport and the Trump Organisation.

“How many military strikes have been facilitated by Prestwick Airport and its relationship with the US military?" Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie

"Well, thanks to the work of The Guardian newspaper we now know that such discussions had taken place, with the government's own transport agency lobbying ministers to meet with Trump's representatives and the airport being marketed as the staging post for Trump's business.

"But we also know the concerns over this public asset go far deeper than that: a contractual relationship with the US military involving the servicing of aircraft of active missions.

"This at a time when the US has been involved in airstrikes on Syria that the first minister vocally opposed. The Scottish Government must take responsibility for the use of its own property in this way."

Harvie continued: "Can the first minister tell us - and if she doesn't know, will she urgently find out and report back to parliament - how many military strikes have been facilitated by Prestwick Airport and its relationship with the US military?"

Responding to Harvie’s demand, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the Guardian report was not a “revelation”, but instead “a load of bunkum”, pointing out that Prestwick had been used to refuel military aircraft for 80 years.

Sturgeon went on to cite Elvis Presley’s famous visit to Prestwick while serving in the US army as an example of its long-standing involvement with the military.

“There's been no contact whatsoever by the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland with the US military, with the Trump Organisation or with Trump Turnberry in relation to Prestwick Airport.” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Sturgeon said: "What I said to Patrick Harvie the last time he raised this question in parliament was absolutely correct.

"There are two key so-called revelations at the heart of this story: the first is that ministers somehow lobbied Trump on behalf of Prestwick Airport and that is based on the fact that Transport Scotland back in early 2015 - which just incidentally, was way before Trump was even a candidate for president, let alone president - passed on a request from Prestwick for ministers to meet with the Trump Organisation during Scotland Week in 2015.

"Those meetings did not happen so that part of the story is categorically untrue. There's been no contact whatsoever by the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland with the US military, with the Trump Organisation or with Trump Turnberry in relation to Prestwick Airport.

"The second part of the so-called revelations is that Prestwick handles military flights including for the United States. I have to say that the fact that Prestwick Airport provides fixed-base operations and refuelling facilities for military flights is neither new nor is it a revelation.

"Its strategic plan, which was published last April, talks about it; its annual accounts, published I think in December, talk about it; its website actively promotes it; and what's more Prestwick Airport has been doing this kind of work for 80 years."

“We can’t allow a failing business to be propped up by simply servicing the US military or promoting the toxic Trump brand.” Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie

Calling her initial response “dismissive” and “disappointing”, Harvie went on to argue that while Prestwick may have had a military presence for decades, the airport was taken into public ownership only in recent years, and said that public ownership came with its own responsibilities.

Following the heated exchange at FMQs, Harvie commented: “The ever-deepening ties between this publicly-owned company and the toxic Trump brand are problematic enough, but the Guardian has now demonstrated beyond doubt that Prestwick relies on payments from the US Air Force and other foreign military forces, specifically payments for refuelling support aircraft running active combat missions. It’s time for full disclosure from the Scottish Government, without the usual redactions holding back information.

"Which bombing raids have relied on the support of this Scottish Government asset? Are we secretly facilitating US operations in Syria, which come at an enormous human cost? In March 2017 US planes killed at least 84 people, including 30 children, in strikes on and around Taqba. Does the first minister know whether those raids relied on Scottish Government-owned infrastructure?

READ MORE: Syria: How did the war start and how will it end?

"The sight of MSPs laughing at this situation during FMQs today was disgraceful, given the human cost of these operations. As for the future of Prestwick, we can’t allow a failing business to be propped up by simply servicing the US military or promoting the toxic Trump brand. The moral price being paid is simply unacceptable."

In April 2017, Sturgeon reiterated her opposition to military intervention in Syria, first entrenched when SNP MPs voted against a military strike on the Assad regime in December 2015, telling BBC Radio Scotland: “My doubt and my scepticism about simply dropping bombs is that it doesn’t necessary take us one single inch closer to that peaceful outcome.

“My concern about air strikes is and always has been that they are no substitute for a real plan for peace and what we need to see in Syria is an end to the conflict, the multifaceted, horrible conflict that is under way in that country.

“I suppose I have a concern that air strikes, particularly given what appears to be the quite dramatic change in the position of the American administration, increases the uncertainty and the unpredictability of the situation in Syria.

“There must be the focus on trying to find a peace that is sustainable in Syria.”

Picture courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald

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Comments

John Stuart Wilson

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 16:02

"There's been no contact whatsoever by the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland with the US military, with the Trump Organisation or with Trump Turnberry in relation to Prestwick Airport."

However, there is no question that officials at Prestwick Airport have done all those things, and that they did so with the knowledge of the SG, and that they are being paid to do so out of the public purse.

DaveS

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 09:20

The decision to buy Prestwick was taken to preserve a strategic asset. History will judge whether or not that was the right decision. Meanwhile the airport makes a loss, which is borne by Scottish taxpayers. The airport management is taxed with maximising income to minimise - and hopefully reverse - that loss. Would you prefer to see it shut?

John Stuart Wilson

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 13:04

@DaveS
It isn't a strategic asset. It is a white elephant that has already consumed over twice the subsidy budgeted for by Alex Salmond, with no end in sight. The situation is so desperate that they are now lobbying Trump's generals and spending public sector funds entertaining within Trump's commercial organisation in the hopes that it becomes a "strategic asset" for the US military.

So, yes, it should be shut. Governing is about making hard decisions. Over on The National they are bleating about how Scotland needs "new powers" to support the film industry. Well, here is both space and a source of money for the productive purpose.

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