Holyrood had heavily criticised proposals to offer special tax breaks and develop streamlined customs procedures through more than half-a-dozen Singapore-style ports in England and has repeatedly stood firm against demands to adopt them in Scotland. Many ports throughout Scotland had thrown their support gaining freeport status, which would enable firms to import goods and then re-export them bypassing normal tax and customs rules, but during the SNP conference in November, delegates passed a motion condemning the plan.
The motion had stated freeports “cannot and will not offset the damage caused by Brexit” and raised fears that they would mean low-cost, low-wage, low-value opportunities “entirely at odds with the SNP’s ambition for Scotland’s economy”.
But SNP trade minister Ian Mckee, who recently described the freeports plan as a “shiny squirrel” designed to distract from the damage of Brexit, has now said that a version of freeports would be delivered north of the border.
He attempted to distance Scotland from Downing Street’s proposals, insisting they would be different and rebranding them “greenports”, providing more focus on reducing carbon emissions and protecting working conditions.
Mr Mckee insisted the UK plan would be adapted for a “Scottish context”, adding: “We will take the UK Government’s freeport model and apply Scotland’s values and priorities to it so that it meets our ambition to develop a net-zero economy and uphold the highest standard of environmental protections and fair work practices.
“Scotland will turn freeports into sustainable, fair, greenports. We won’t be engaging with an economic model and mechanism that allows for a race to the bottom.
“Instead, the Scottish greenport model will be an exemplar, adopting best practice which helps to deliver on net-zero and fair work principles alongside supporting regeneration and innovation ambitions.”
But Maurice Golden, the economy spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, ridiculed the sudden change of direction from the SNP, branding it a “screeching U-turn”.
He said: “This is a humiliating climbdown for the SNP. Just a few months ago, Ivan McKee was claiming that freeports are a “shiny squirrel” and the SNP conference backed a motion slamming them.
“This screeching SNP U-turn is very welcome. It seems they have finally realised that businesses are desperate to reap the benefits from freeports.”
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