In March, the UK government announced plans for eight free ports in England which it hoped would roll out in Scotland and Wales, but the Scottish government then produced its own “green port” proposal which the UK Treasury dismissed as cosmetic. Both the SNP and Welsh Labour have squealed that the UK government is not respecting devolution. Whatever.
Now Forth Ports has announced it will explore the SNP’s version, but the UK government remains open for applications from outside England.
Forth Ports and the Airport are smart political operators, but it’s doubtful they give a stuff whose scheme it is or what it’s called as long as it works. Neither should the UK government get hung up about SNP cosmetics if it can facilitate the big job-boosting tax breaks, and it’s in the UK’s interests to make sure it happens, despite the SNP using it as a political opportunity.
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And with the disasters of the CalMac ferries, Prestwick Airport and the Burntisland BiFab yard, it’s not as if the Scottish government has much of a track record of industrial intervention anyway.
Businesses should be free to engage with both governments without having to choose, and when it comes to boosting commerce the best thing governments can do is facilitate a clear and simple tax and regulatory landscape. And then get out the way.