Freeports: SNP Government faces criticism from own party activists over green freeports in Scotland

The SNP Trade Union has said the Scottish Government’s decision to go ahead with a £52 million plan for two freeports “undermines devolution”.

The two green freeports propsed in Scotland fall under Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda and aim to offer tax breaks and lower business tariffs.

However, the SNP Trade Union Group said the decision to work with the UK Government risked “undermining devolution” and opening a lawless back door into the Scottish economy.

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The SNP initially disagreed with the implementation of freeports.

The Scottish government plans to adapt UK proposals for the establishment of Freeports making them Green Ports. In the running are Rosyth, Dundee, Hunterston, Orkney, Cromarty Firth and Aberdeen. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

However, finance secretary Kate Forbes said on Monday the Scottish Government recently agreed to the freeports based on changes to the agreement with the UK Government.

These changes include equal decision-making powers, a focus on reaching net zero by 2045 and embedding fair work practices.

Bill Ramsay, the convener of the Trade Union group, which has more than 14,000 members, told The Herald: “We have concerns about the introduction of freeports in Scotland.

"Last year our party agreed six clear conditions which we believe makes them untenable – conditions which also apply to the ‘greenport’ variant, which was rejected by SNP party conference in September 2021.

“We, of course, recognise that as long as Scotland is part of the UK, any Scottish devolved administration has a duty to work with the UK Government, and to attempt to alleviate and or mitigate any policies of the UK Government that are potentially harmful to Scotland.

“On the face of it, the decision to do a deal with the UK Government on these deregulated zones risks undermining devolution and opening a dangerous unregulated back door into the Scottish economy.”

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Mr Ramsay said the group would be raising its concerns to the SNP’s National Executive Committee and seeking “urgent answers” from Ms Forbes about how all six conditions for freeports and ‘greenports’, agreed as policy by the SNP, will be met.

The motion passed by the SNP conference expressed fears that "freeport proposals by the UK Government are a part of the agenda to undermine devolution" and that freeports have historically "been a haven for criminality, such as money laundering and people trafficking".

The motion also outlined that freeports allow those operating within them “to erode workers’ pay and conditions”.

It adds: "The only way a freeport should be operated is with consideration for the entire community in which it is sited and as fair and just to all; and with correctly staffed controls by all relevant agencies, not just in the immediate vicinity, but across the wider geographical area."

The six points laid out by the policy are:

- All businesses within them "must pay the real living wage as a minimum, as well as abiding by fair work practices";

- Mandatory trade union recognition;

- All businesses in freeports to help hit Scottish net zero targets;

- Local councils fully funded to cope with the freeports;

- Full compensation for local communities adversely affected by freeports, paid for by the businesses operating within it;

- Full health and safety, environmental and other law enforcement operating inside freeports.

The motion concluded: "Conference agrees therefore that without securing the six requirements set out above in their entirety, freeports should not established or permitted within Scotland."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Through the partnership agreement to establish two green freeports in Scotland, the Scottish Government has secured more than double the original funding and an equal voice in all decision making, and has tailored the UK model to suit Scotland’s priorities.

"Applicants will be required to contribute towards a just transition to net-zero emissions by 2045, delivering net-zero benefits and creating new green jobs.

“Fair work practices will be at the heart of green freeports. Applicants will need to set out how they will support high-quality employment opportunities that offer good salaries and conditions – boosting prosperity for the communities they operate in – and how fair work practices, including payment of the real living wage, will be embedded in the green freeport area.”

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