Leader comment: Convincing case still to be made over APD

A survey commissioned by the Greens which suggests that the Scottish public does not support plans to cut air taxes is bound to be greeted with a degree of scepticism, regardless of the fact that it was conducted by a highly respected polling company.

The Scottish Government has proposed cutting APD to increase the number of flights coming to Scotland, thus stimulating economic growth.
The Scottish Government has proposed cutting APD to increase the number of flights coming to Scotland, thus stimulating economic growth.

The Greens may have partnered the SNP to provide a Holyrood majority on the matter of a second independence referendum, but the two parties have their differences, and Air Passenger Duty is one of them. At the time a mandate was sought for a referendum it was not adequately explained why the Greens were backing a government which has as one of its key policies assistance for airlines in a bid to encourage economic growth.

Recently, we had a further confusing signal from the SNP with its Programme for Government, which was strong on its green agenda. The party has laid out its intention to create low-emissions zones in the country’s four biggest cities, as well as phasing out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 – an ambitious eight years ahead of the UK government’s timetable.

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The Scottish Government has been praised for its progress on greenhouse gas emissions, which are on course for to hit the 42 per cent reduction by 2020 and aims to step this up to 66 per cent by 2032. And on a UK level, it is claimed we have just experienced the greenest summer on record as far as the National Grid is concerned.

So why, given this progress and the future targets set, is the Scottish Government still considering a cut to APD, which can only have a negative effect on the environment if its intended consequence comes to pass?

At face value, the survey commissioned by the Greens suggests the policy isn’t necessarily a vote-winner either, although doubtless a different survey would produce a different result. But voters are entitled to ask why APD is still on the table – or, at the very least, what the Scottish Government’s current thinking is, given that this proposal has been around for some time.

A lack of explanation doesn’t mean the policy is wrong, but the Scottish Government needs to admit openly that this is not an environmentally friendly policy, and then provide a convincing argument for pressing ahead in any case. Abolishing APD might well help the economy, but at what cost? We need to know.