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Landin in Scotland: The SNP twists in the wind on climate change

The Scottish government seems at sixes and sevens over almost every strategic policy as Extinction Rebellion and others push it against the wall (of Holyrood, naturally)

FROM SUNDAY through to Thursday next week, Extinction Rebellion protesters will host a “climate camp” outside Holyrood.

Having announced a “climate emergency” you’d think Nicola Sturgeon would be the first to sign up — but when I asked her spokesman if she’d be visiting, he said he hadn’t even heard of it.

Meanwhile Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said “good progress” had been made to “increase revenue, deliver operating efficiencies and pursue exciting opportunities for the future,” and so Prestwick Airport was ready to be re-privatised. Matheson, like so many of his colleagues, seems to believe this emergency is something one can opt in and out of at one’s convenience.

Nicola Sturgeon herself presided over the opening of a new terminal at Edinburgh airport just last week. And on Thursday, she batted off a question over the proposed development at Hunterston in North Ayrshire from Green MSP Ross Greer, who asked: “Does the First Minister agree that new gas-fired power stations in Scotland are not compatible with her declaration of a climate emergency?” Sturgeon said it “would not be correct for me to pre-empt” the process of deciding bids for the port redevelopment, saying instead her “commitment to tackling climate change and reducing emissions is very well evidenced across our energy policy.”

Extinction Rebellion says it’s setting up the tents to “push for a democratic, socially just and necessary transformation of our society” — instead of the provisions in the climate Bill to be debated at Holyrood next week, which the group says “relies on economic growth and unproven technologies.”

Another issue repeatedly raised at First Minister’s Questions could provide ministers with a start. The greenhouse effect of railways is 80 per cent less than that of cars — but Sturgeon’s government has refused to intervene to save Scotland’s flagship railway works. The Springburn works, known as the “Caley,” is set to lay off hundreds of workers — but if it was used to its full capacity, it could help power a green transport revolution north of the border.

In a meeting with trade union reps, Matheson reportedly said that “we don’t do nationalisation.” Sturgeon contradicted this when Labour pressed the issue at FMQs two weeks ago, saying: “It is obviously not true that the government does not do nationalisation. I seem to remember that, against some criticism in the chamber, we nationalised Prestwick airport to prevent it from being closed, and we have been willing to step in in other instances as well.”

So in fact, I asked at the weekly press briefing with the First Minister’s spokesman on Thursday, is it the case that the government only does temporary nationalisations?

“Prestwick was taken into public ownership because it’s a strategic national asset and as we were saying the situation in 2013 was critical,” the spokesman said. “It was about to be potentially lost as a strategic national asset.”

The Caley too is a “strategic national asset”, and vast quantities of skills and expertise will be lost if it closes. Its importance is heightened by the critical need for a massive expansion of greener transport options.

Prestwick is being championed as a future centre for space technologies and a “logistics hub” for Heathrow Airport expansion.

Is it the prestige of such projects that gives it the edge for the Scottish government? If so, perhaps they could consider the PR-coup that would come from English railways sending their trains to Scotland for servicing ­— which could be the outcome if the Scottish government got ahead of the game and invested in the Caley. Or, more likely, perhaps not.

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