To Vote or Not
There was a key infrastructure vote in Westminster on Heathrow. The SNP position, on which I was leading on was eventually to abstain. It was a curious position to find myself in – I have criticised Labour about some of the abstentions they have undertaken. So why take a neutral position?
On the positive side, the Scottish Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Heathrow Airport. They have pledged to provide a pre-construction logistics hub in Scotland – with Prestwick the favourite location – and a minimum commitment of £300m construction and supply chain expenditure. FlyBe have expressed an interest in commercial operations from Prestwick to Heathrow if they can get slots. All the Business of Chambers in Scotland support expansion as do all Scottish Airports except the Gatwick owned Edinburgh airport. It is predicted up to 16,000 jobs could be created in Scotland in the long run if Heathrow gets an additional runway.
It is expected that “up to 15% of new slots will be available for domestic routes”. This is where I started to get a bit uneasy. Bizarrely, slots are sold to airlines. Then often what happens is that the airlines decide to scrap their domestic routes and use the slots for long haul routes instead. As a result, the only way the slots can be guaranteed to be retained for domestic routes is for the UK Government to put in place control measures – such as public service obligations for airport to airport routes. They indicated to me they are willing to do this if domestic routes start to disappear. This was simply not robust enough and the main reason that the SNP abstained. I observed that with so many businesses and airports in favour, I couldn’t vote to block. But without absolute commitments on connectivity, I couldn’t endorse it with a vote either.
There are some environmental concerns as well. One thing – they will be resolved in court as there will be judicial reviews undertaken. At least that will give certainty on those matters.
Save the Endangered Species
One of the new Scottish Lib Dem MPs is shall we say “slightly off the wall”. Recently at Foreign Office Questions, he raised the issue of the Scottish Wildcat, and the need to save it from extinction. As a rare Scottish indigenous species, I agree with him. However, he raised the matter as a follow up question on illegal wildlife crime. Why does he believe this is a matter for the Foreign Office and does he really think Boris Johnson is the man to save the wildcat?
Another recent contribution was a debate on “UK Intergovernmental Co-operation”. He stated that when he visits his sister in law in Northumberland “I think to myself, “I am in England. I can have a pint now and I will not be pulled over and not be done for it.” That’s an MP who gets to the heart of the serious issues! It is little wonder that the Lib Dems were previously tipped to be an endangered species themselves.
These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.