SNP comes under pressure as questions surface over Heathrow lobbying

As the SNP confirms its support for a third runway, transparency campaigners question influence of the airport industry on Scottish politics 

THE SNP have come under pressure from campaigners and opposition parties in Holyrood for alleged connections between the lobbying of operators at Heathrow and the recent decision by the party to back the Heathrow expansion.

This week (Tuesday 25 October) the SNP confirmed their support for the creation of a third runway at Heathrow, noting the benefits in jobs that would come to Scotland as a result and criticised the UK Government’s “indecision”.

But campaigners for the environment said this runs against the party’s position on tackling climate change, promoting social justice and encouraging more investment in Scotland.

“It seems odd that the SNP would fall so neatly into step with Westminster with a project that so clearly involves such deep injustice against the local communities around Heathrow while trashing the climate, at the behest of a series of disreputable corporate lobbyists.” Liz Murray, Global Justice Now

Speaking to CommonSpace Liz Murray, spokesperson for Global Justice Now Scotland, said: “Scottish ministers have gone to some length to promote Holyrood’s pioneering climate change act, and the Scottish government’s commitment to climate justice and making deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. 

“But all of this is completely at odds with the fact that the SNP is now enthusiastically supporting the expansion of Heathrow airport.

“It seems odd that the SNP would fall so neatly into step with Westminster with a project that so clearly involves such deep injustice against the local communities around Heathrow while trashing the climate at the behest of a series of disreputable corporate lobbyists.”

During the SNP’s October 2016 conference, Heathrow operated a “private airport style lounge” with exclusive access given to business and party delegates as well as members of the media.

Equipped with a free bar the lounge was set up, according to Heathrow’s operators, to “promote the benefits of the expansion to Scotland” and was the second such promotional event to feature at an SNP party conference, following their presence in Aberdeen in 2015.

Both Heathrow and the SNP refused to comment before the conference on how much the lounge cost, according to the Herald the party had charged an upper limit in its conference brochure of 23,000 for sponsorship of conference events.

The SNP’s support will mean that even with a sizable rebellion on the Tory backbenches, the UK Government’s legislative backing for a third runway will pass with ease.

“Scottish ministers have gone to some length to promote Holyrood’s pioneering climate change act – but all of this is completely at odds with the fact that the SNP is now enthusiastically supporting the expansion of Heathrow airport.” Liz Murray

Back in September according to the Financial Times (FT), senior SNP figures such as Drew Henry, the party’s transport spokesperson at Westminster, had said that a “clear deal had to be cut” to ensure a reversal of the cuts in Heathrow flights to Scotland from 50 to 26 over the past decade. At the time Henry stated that the SNP’s position was “neutral”.

Such a deal involved commitments from Heathrow bosses on jobs and the use of Glasgow Prestwick airport as a potential site for a logistics hub as well as a reduction of £10 per passenger on landing charges, paid by airlines operating services from Heathrow to Scotland. All these were included in a Memorandum of Understanding signed between Heathrow airport and the Scottish Government on October 10.

The Scottish secretary for the economy, jobs and fair work, Keith Brown, has stated that the Scottish Government believed there would be more benefits for Scotland from a third runway at Heathrow than one at Gatwick. 

The Heathrow expansion would mean a potential £200m spent on construction in Scotland and £10m spent on new domestic routes.

According to the Scottish Government, the expansion would mean a potential £200m would be spent on construction in Scotland and £10m spent on new domestic routes. 

In addition to lobbying efforts by Heathrow, since January last year public relations firms Charlotte Street Partners and Global Infrastructure Partners have lobbied for a greater development at Gatwick airport.

Both companies put on an “In Conversation” dinner with the first minister Nicola Sturgeon in January featuring speakers from Cluff Natural Resources, a mining and oil company, Sir John Elvidge the chairman of Edinburgh airport and John Glenn, who runs the financial assets of the Buccleuch family. Global Infrastructure Partners acquired Gatwick in a purchased in 2009 for £1.5bn.

Earlier in October, CommonSpace revealed that the SNP charged £5,000 for non-profit organisations to set up stalls at their autumn conference. The Herald also revealed sponsorship deals between big business and the SNP with firms charged £15,500 to put their names on lanyards, £12,500 for delegate bags and £2,000 to sponsor a creche at the conference.

“The Scottish Government's faith in spurious jobs figures is breath-taking. What is the point of a principle like climate justice, when it is surrendered so easily?” Patrick Harvie

At first minister's questions (Thursday 27 October) Scottish Green party MSPs questioned the credibility of the SNP’s claims to have consistently made moves to tackle climate change.

Patrick Harvie, party co-convenor, said: “By siding with the anti-green Westminster Government in backing the expansion of Heathrow, they are damaging the UK and Scotland's credibility on the global stage where the urgency of reducing climate emissions is crystal clear. The Scottish Government's faith in spurious jobs figures is breath-taking. What is the point of a principle like climate justice, when it is surrendered so easily?

“The next test for this Government will be its equally irrational proposal to scrap Air Passenger Duty. It's time to focus on the affordable, sustainable, low carbon transport people actually need in their daily lives.”

Picture courtesy of Clive Darra

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Fri, 10/28/2016 - 18:02

If it helps to get jobs to Scotland that should be enough, I think this constant posturing about climate change is becoming boring, we will still be ahead of the rest and the SNP say that they will make up for what extra emissions the runway will cause, just another reason for complaining about the SNP your beginning to sound like the tories SNPbad


Fri, 10/28/2016 - 18:40

I was at the SNP conference when this was voted in as policy.I voted against simply because I do not think we in Scotland should be voting for things that affect other people.The impact on people who live near Heathrow will be huge and the impact on us here in Scotland very much less indeed.I noticed the huge presence of the Heathrow lobby at the SNP conference and I do not object to that but I do think that the SNP should have had a greater presence of opposition to the Heathrow lobby it simply is not democratic to allow those who have the most money available to support their cause to have the greatest presence at the SNP or any other political party conference.I do hope this is addressed for next year.Scotland needs to get control of its own airports so we can lower what the airlines are charged for using our airports so that they will be encouraged to offer greater choice of destination.It just isn't acceptable that it is cheaper for people living in Scotland to travel to Newcastle Manchester London for flights to overseas destinations and it isnt acceptable that people in England can fly to dozens and dozens of Greek islands for example from English airports whilst people in Scotland can only fly direct to six.Our priority has to be control of our own airports and not interfering in airports in other countries.


Fri, 10/28/2016 - 18:45

I do not agree with the first commenter above,it is not enough to say that bringing jobs to Scotland is more important than anything else.I doubt if any extra jobs will materialise in Scotland from the expansion of Heathrow.Come on seriously ? If you believe it will bring jobs to Scotland you will believe anything .

gjm's picture


Fri, 10/28/2016 - 20:12

The aim from the SG is to get more people to come to Scotland and for us to get the benefits of that. Direct or via England. I've got no problem at all with the opposition to the Heathrow option on environmental and local justice grounds but Patrick Harvie is inferring that increases in travellers to Scotland can happen by using low carbon forms of transport to get them here. What are these low carbon forms of transport and how likely is it that these forms of transport, if they exist, will be popular with travellers?

PH wants to decrease rather than increase the amount of passenger flights linked to scotland then if he has his way we might see less people come to Scotland overall not more. If the environmental situation is as bad as that then PH should come out and state his case. We need to have a debate beyond point scoring here because it might well be the case that our desire to see as many folk as possible come to Scotland is incompatible with our wider responsibilities towards combating climate change. I don;t know the answer to this but If that's what the Green party believe they are the experts and they should be stating heir case openly.

Throwing accusations and slurs about doesn't do anyone any favours. It's wearing a bit thin. The argument that the SG agree to a heathrow extension due to the 5g they got from their stall at conference rather than the benefits of the project to Scotland is pure pish.

THe SG have went against more powerful lobbies than that before in order to protect our interests


Fri, 10/28/2016 - 22:29

Hang on... when are you saying this was voted on at conference? I didn't see this, and it isn't on the official agenda?

Scottish Scientist

Fri, 10/28/2016 - 23:54

Bought and sold for Heathrow's gold, such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

Theresa May has found herself a new lapdog - Keith Brown MSP, sitting up and begging for crumbs from his mistress May's hand - Keith Brown, the SNP's economy minister with no macro-economic borrowing powers who swans around Scotland like a king with no clothes, while the Scottish economy is denied investment for growth, he's busy stuffing SNP party campaign coffers with Heathrow's cash.

The SNP must insist on Brown being sacked and replaced by a competent economy minister who will repudiate the tartan-Tory fiscal framework stitch-up between Sturgeon and the UK Chancellor which forbids the Scottish government from borrowing the £ billions a year more which is needed for investment IN SCOTLAND (not London) to grow the Scottish economy to create the wealth needed for prosperity for the people.

The SNP must sack Brown, the economy minister for Heathrow, London!

Tony Perridge

Sat, 10/29/2016 - 13:53

I find it hard to accept that getting possible jobs in Scotland and possibly attracting more visitors to Scotland actually trumps the fact that we have to prevent planet Earth from heating up to the point where civilisation collapses. The Scottish and Westminster governments either believe in climate change or they don't and if they do then the third runway project must be scrapped and there must be no reduction in APD that could encourage more frequent flying. This shouldn't be a game for politicians, it is far too serious for that.

Arthur Blue's picture

Arthur Blue

Sat, 10/29/2016 - 19:24

It's very difficult to see how Scotland can make extra emissions cuts which will compensate for an expanded Heathrow. To claim such, and keep our existing climate goals, is nothing but waffle. But maybe business trumps all, including the planet which we will be leaving to our children.


Sat, 10/29/2016 - 21:08


Imagine, for argument's sake, that food prices were to slowly rise to infinity.

Poorer parts of the world would suffer severe hunger and outbreaks of mass starvation. There would be an increase in armed conflict and mass migration. Populations would decline.

The wealth of the richer countries would provide a temporary buffer although ultimately our fate would be the same. We'd go through an extra, initial stage of stagflation which would gradually destroy our economies and then we'd be in the same boat.

Before you say that climate change is "boring" consider the catastrophic impacts it could have on global agriculture. The unmitigated emissions scenarios - possibly also triggering some climate feedbacks - would take us a long way down the path outlined above. The global population would almost certainly decline significantly. Many nations could collapse - even in the developed world.

Even the most optimistic emissions scenarios will not be able to avoid some disruption. The recent El Nino shows what even a minor climatic blip can do: food shortages for almost a hundred million people in South America and Africa.

The best case scenario, with a 2C rise, is an increase in outbreaks of famine in some areas of the world with associated risks of armed conflict. In the West we'd see food prices rising inexorably throughout this century although (probably) not in an unmanageable way.

No-one is "posturing" about the threats posed by climate change. This is a real, global emergency which urgently demands deep cuts in emissions and a new, sustainable economic model.

In the news, the dominant impression seems to be that climate change will lead to gradual sea level rise and "bad weather". Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that we can take some warming in our stride but the truth is we can't. There will be a significant economic impact. People will die. The only question is how many.


Sun, 10/30/2016 - 03:57


To cut our emissions as much as we need to will be very difficult. Air travel can't get a free pass.

The calculator here helps to get a feel for the problem:

I'm an SGP member. I'd love to see more information explaining the impacts of climate change (see my other post here). The short answer is AGW isn't a leaky garage roof which we ought to get around to fixing some day, when we can find the time. This is an emergency where the ship is sinking and we all have to bail.

I'm also keen to have a constructive relationship with the SNP. They're not the enemy: they're an ally, even if we won't always agree.

Scotland needs a new kind of politics where disagreements between parties are pursued honestly on matters of principle rather than the kind of time-wasting, point-scoring opportunism of the Jim Murpy's and Ruth Davidson's of this world who will say one thing one day and something else entirely on another.

MeMalky's picture


Sun, 10/30/2016 - 07:20

It's "odd" that the SNP "falls into line with Westminster" on this thorny issue because that is not true. While I am not one of those who advocate jobs and economic growth at any cost, particularly any environmental cost, I am willing to concede that grown-up politics can at times be ugly. This is one of those times.

JohnSharp61's picture


Sun, 10/30/2016 - 20:57

How much influence does SNP / Scottish Government have over UK air hub capacity in SE England - whether and by how much it is expanded, and when? I would think negligible; its leverage is probably no more than to tip the balance if there is a marginal decision to be made - as in between Heathrow or Gatwick.
Yet, I see a deluge of comment and criticism that seems premised on the assumption that it's SNP support for a particular scheme that is driving an increase in air travel; as if by withholding that support, SNP could thwart overall expansion.


Mon, 10/31/2016 - 08:25

One of the main worries of many is that the SNP will succumb to the influence of big business through lobbyists. This type of deal doesn't inspire trust or confidence.

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