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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