Scottish Government announce u-turn on cutting air departure tax

The Scottish Government has announced it is abandoning plans to cut air departure tax after declaring a climate emergency.

The SNP’s flagship manifesto policy to halve the air duty before abolishing it altogether has been scrapped, with ministers saying “reducing air departure tax (ADT) is no longer compatible with more ambitious climate targets”.

The u-turn follows pressure from opposition parties who questioned how a policy to reduce a tax on flying was compatible with the Scottish Government’s decision to announce a climate emergency.

Scottish Labour had secured a vote on the issue set for Wednesday, claiming the policy was a £150 million tax cut for the airline industry and the richest in society.

The vote posed a dilemma for Nicola Sturgeon’s Government, with the Scottish Greens expected to join Labour, the Lib Dems and members of the First Minister’s own party in opposing the cut to air departure tax.

Instead, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay announced on Tuesday that the Government is dropping its backing for the tax reduction.

Mr Mackay said: “All parts of government and society have a contribution to make to meeting this challenge – and reducing air departure tax is no longer compatible with more ambitious climate targets.

“We continue to support our tourism industry, which is going from strength to strength, and we will work with the sector to develop in a sustainable way. We welcome their efforts – and those of the aviation industry – to reduce carbon emissions.

“We will continue to work with the UK Government to fix the devolution of air departure tax to ensure that future parliaments can decide on the best policy for Scotland’s interests in line with our climate ambitions.”

Environment and Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham explained that the Government was assessing all its policies in light of the new climate change targets announced last week.

Ms Cunningham added: “Following the First Minister’s declaration of a climate emergency last week, and the recommendations from the UK Committee on Climate Change, we have moved quickly to increase Scotland’s emissions reduction targets – which will now be the most stringent in the world.

“Scotland has already shown global leadership by including a fair share of international aviation and shipping emissions in its statutory climate targets, and the fact is that aviation emissions contribute a relatively limited amount to Scotland’s overall carbon emissions – so while we are making this commitment as the first step to meeting the climate emergency, no one should be pretending that this is job done.”

Scottish Budget
Scottish Budget

Scottish Greens parliamentary co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Greens have led the case against this ill thought out tax giveaway from the moment it was first proposed, so we very much welcome the Scottish Government’s huge u-turn on this issue.

“Today, Greens have lodged amendments to the climate change bill to deliver net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

“If parliament is serious about tackling the climate emergency then it’s vital that an ambitious target is set, and that we are willing to take more decisive policy decisions like scrapping this proposed air tax cuts to back it up.”

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport said: “We’ve gone from personal commitments to all-out cancellation in the space of just two weeks, which shows just how reactionary this decision is.

“It does not show leadership and means airports and airlines have been led down a path of failed promises for three years by this Scottish Government.

“The Scottish Government continues to implement a successful cut in APD in Inverness which has delivered fantastic economic benefits, and persists on propping up a failing airport at Prestwick to the tune of £40million and counting, so this is sheer hypocrisy.

“It also raises questions about continued support for our tourism sector when airlines have already walked away from Scotland due to this failure to deliver.

“There is scope for everyone, the aviation industry included, to make improvements and reduce emissions and carbon footprints and only a few weeks ago we were told ADT was factored into the Scottish Government’s climate change targets so what has changed?

“It not only punishes families and those who work hard to afford a holiday by enforcing one of the highest aviation taxes anywhere in the world, but will restrict our future connectivity, investment into Scotland and job creation as we sacrifice Scotland’s international outlook.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “This u-turn from the SNP is thanks to pressure from Labour, and is one that should have been made years ago.

“Scotland faces a climate emergency and soaring inequality – a tax cut that benefits the richest the most and increases emissions was never the right policy.

“Holyrood should now get on with delivering better public transport and look at how ADT could be reformed to be more progressive.”

Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary said: “Almost no-one will be convinced by this blatant fib from the SNP.

“The simple truth is it never had the will to press ahead with ADT changes, and is now succumbing – once again – to the environmental extremists in its own nationalist movement.

“Cutting ADT on long-haul flights has huge potential to boost our economy, make money for the tourism industry, and generate business.

“For years the SNP claimed they believed this, and made promises to our tourist industry – promises that they have now broken.

“It’s a disgrace the SNP no longer sees these things as important.”