Nicola Sturgeon is facing increasing pressure to ditch a flagship government policy that would cut tax on flights to prove her commitment to tackling the climate emergency.
Scottish Labour will tomorrow force a vote to scrap the planned cut in air departure tax (ADT), which is due to come into effect next year.
The move is likely to be supported by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens but could divide the SNP backbenches between those who want to tackle climate change and others who believe the cut will boost the economy by increasing the number of flights in and out of the country.
However the Scottish Conservatives will continue to back a tax cut for long haul flights - despite leader Ruth Davidson claiming at her party’s weekend conference that climate change was a “massive challenge”.
The SNP’s longstanding pledge to cut air departure tax by 50 per cent, before eventually scrapping it entirely, has previously been branded “irresponsible in the face of climate change” by Friends of the Earth Scotland.
At her party’s annual conference last month Ms Sturgeon said a “climate emergency” had been scientifically proven and that “Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it”. Last week she also appeared to signal a shift away from the ADT policy after announcing a new commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland to net zero by 2045.
But to meet that commitment Labour wants the government to commit to scrapping the ADT cut, which it claims would otherwise lead to £150 million drop in income for public services, and an increase in emissions by around 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Labour’s transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “Like the rest of the world, Scotland needs to face up to the climate emergency our planet faces. That’s why the misguided policy of cutting air departure tax needs to go.
“Nicola Sturgeon joined Labour in declaring a climate emergency - but as it stands her flagship policy would further contribute to climate change and only make it worse. Holyrood can take the first step towards facing up to the scale of the climate crisis, by uniting and rejecting this policy.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “It’s clear that this unfair and environmentally damaging tax will never fly. The Scottish Government should be investing in everyday transport like buses and trains, not giving a bung to wealthy frequent flyers, at the expense of the climate.
“Greens have led the case against this ill thought out tax giveaway from the moment it was first proposed. We’ll vote against it on Wednesday, and we’ll challenge all parties to accept that aviation must be limited to sustainable levels.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur added: “The SNP has been in the pocket of the aviation industry for years. When Liberal Democrats asked what the evidence was for abolishing APD back in 2013, Keith Brown referred us to a report on the Easyjet website commissioned by four airlines.
“Passenger numbers are going up and up. This money should be going towards our schools, hospitals and making the changes needed to our transport system that can help save our planet.”
At last week’s First Minister’s Questions both Labour and the Scottish Greens argued the tax cut must be shelved. Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said afterwards that all policies would now be looked at in the light of the enhanced climate change targets.
Tomorrow’s vote was welcomed by Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, who said: “When you are in a climate emergency the first thing you should do is stop all the things that will make the situation worse.
“The government’s own figures show that removing ADT would result in a significant increase in emissions, equivalent to putting 30,000 extra cars on the road. Last week’s confirmation from the First Minister that all policies are to be reviewed in light of climate change was very welcome. Cancelling the ADT cut would be a big move in the right direction. All credit to Labour for forcing the issue in Parliament.”
However a spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said that an ADT cut would “boost our economy during these turbulent times”. He added: “Climate change is an issue we must all face and we believe this can be done whilst maintaining a strong economy and connectivity.
“The aviation industry is already making changes and the carbon offsetting scheme for aviation will mitigate around 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2035, which shows we can all make changes to successfully reduce emissions.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “Our policy on ADT is clear – we support its abolition for long-haul flights and believe that would deliver an economic boost for Scotland. It’s no surprise to see Labour opposing things that would bring money and investment to the country.”
And a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister led the way in declaring a climate emergency and moved immediately to increase Scotland’s emissions targets which will now be the most stringent legislative targets in the world.
“The Scottish Government will be reviewing a range of policies to ensure we meet those targets and we look forward to receiving support from all parties represented in Holyrood for measures such as Work Place Parking which will play a part in reducing transport emissions.”