FM accused of inconsistency
Sturgeon under pressure on currency and climate change
The First Minister was on the defensive on currency and climate policies (pic: Terry Murden)
Nicola Sturgeon came under pressure today to explain apparent inconsistencies in her party’s policies on a Scottish currency and climate change.
The First Minister defended the currency proposal as a key feature of an independent nation, but indicated that the party may be having second thoughts on cutting a key tax to benefit the aviation industry.
Interim Tory leader Jackson Carlaw accused the First Minister and SNP leader of changing her mind on the pound and of failing to name a single supporter of a separate Scottish currency.
The SNP voted at its conference in Edinburgh at the weekend to introduce a new currency in an independent Scotland after six fiscal tests are met.
Addressing First Minister’s Questions for the final time as stand-in to Ruth Davidson, Mr Carlaw said: ”In the independence referendum campaign just a few short years ago, the First Minister pledged we should keep the UK pound permanently – forever – because in her words `that was in the best interests of Scotland’.
“Yet this week, she and the SNP voted to ditch the UK pound. How on Earth is dumping the pound in the best interests of Scotland?”
Ms Sturgeon defended her party’s proposals, insisting that a change of currency will only happen when the time is right.
“That is the benefit of independence. We take the decisions that are right for our interests here in Scotland, rather than having the decisions, that are against our interests, imposed on us by Westminster.”
Mr Carlaw challenged Ms Sturgeon to name a single business or trade union which would endorse her plans to use a new Scottish currency .
The First Minister responded by dodging the question and instead said Mr Carlaw should consider how much value the pound has lost against other currencies as a result of Brexit.
Mr Carlaw said Ms Sturgeon had failed to explain why Richard Marsh, an adviser to her own Growth Commission, held such a different opinion about currency in a separate Scotland.
He was reported this seek as saying that, on the first day of independence, there would be an economic shock “similar to that seen during the 2008 financial crisis”.
Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrats turned on Ms Sturgeon over claims that her climate change commitments were inconsistent with her government’s policies.
Both opposition parties called on her to ditch the proposal to cut air departure tax (ADT), known as air passenger duty south of the border, which is paid by passengers. Supporters of a cut say it holds back expansion of Scottish airports and growth in the airline business which is crucial to growing the wider economy. It was said to be a factor in Norwegian Airlines switching operations from Edinburgh to Dublin.
However, critics say cutting the tax is inconsistent with pledges to cut carbon emissions. Labour said that despite committing to net zero emissions by 2045, the SNP maintains a policy of cutting Air Departure Tax by 50%, a move that would increase emissions by 60,000 tonnes.
The First Minister was pressed on the issue by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and was forced to admit that policies in this area will need to be reviewed.
Referring also to the Offshore Wind Summit over concerns that governments are not doing enough to secure contracts for UK fabricators, Mr Leonard, pictured, called for the establishment of a permanent council made-up of business and trade unions in the low carbon and renewables sector.
“The Scottish Labour Party welcomes today’s commitment from the Scottish Government to meet ambitious climate change targets.
“This is the future of our planet and we need emergency action now. But we also need to ensure that the transition to a low carbon economy is a just transition: one that is socially just and one that benefits the working people of Scotland.
“The SNP promised us that renewable energy and the low carbon economy would deliver 130,000 jobs for Scotland by 2020, but just over 46,000 jobs have been created as work went to Spain, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.
“Nicola Sturgeon has a bold climate change target, but her boldest climate change policy is a £150 million tax cut [ADT] that benefits the richest the most and actually drives emissions up.
“The SNP tells us that she has factored this in, but that is not good enough. If Nicola Sturgeon is really serious about the climate emergency she should drop her commitment to cut the Air Departure Tax.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur, said: “This morning, the Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee has said it “would help immensely with the emissions challenge there is in Scotland” if the government didn’t choose to cut tax to boost flights and called on Scottish ministers to invest far more heavily in electrical vehicle infrastructure.
“The First Minister should accept this advice, scrap the aviation tax and use the money instead to deliver on an early target for government and public bodies to phase out their polluting vehicles.”