Tonight, two contrasting events will take place in Edinburgh.
At the Scottish Parliament, the SNP MSP Kate Forbes has joined forces with the Chambers of Commerce in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness to host a lobbying reception for London’s busiest airport, Heathrow, in the Scottish Parliament.
It should be remembered that to secure the Scottish Government’s support for its expansion, Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, made a number of promises around the appointment of Scottish suppliers and the use of Prestwick Airport as a logistics hub. He also promised 16,000 jobs, £200m of construction spend and £10m of cash to support route development in and out of Scotland.
Hopefully those attending the event on Thursday in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament will take the time to ask how those promises are being delivered and what safeguards are in place to ensure that they are.
Across the city, I will be hosting a big party to celebrate Scotland’s first direct air route to and from China. The route, to be flown by Hainan Airlines, is the product of years of hard work and a steely determination on the part of my team at Edinburgh Airport to grow Scotland’s direct route network without the old-fashioned and completely unnecessary stop in London on the way.
I give credit to the Chinese consulate here in Edinburgh, and particularly to Mr Pan Xinchun, the Consul General, who has supported our efforts along the way. I also thank the Scottish Government for its support in securing this route and we will no doubt take some time to celebrate Emirates’ decision this week to add Dubai to the growing list of international destinations served directly from Edinburgh.
But, Scotland should be much more ambitious when it comes to its connections with the world. We do not invest nearly enough in promoting this brilliant country around the world and for the Scottish Government to throw its weight behind a third runway at a London airport that will inevitably undermine Scotland’s airports was a mistake.
That some of our Chambers of Commerce are more focused on Heathrow than on the challenges faced by local airports is equally disappointing and it surely their job to speak up for their members and the choice and good value being offered here in Scotland and not just London.
We have always maintained that allowing Heathrow to become bigger will be to the detriment of Scotland’s airports and Scottish travellers, and those around the UK for that matter. Time will tell of course, and there are many hurdles for Heathrow to cross before it can put a spade in the ground on a third runway; but it stands to reason that creating a huge monopoly airport in the South East of England will adversely affect the ability of other airports around the country to compete for airlines’ business.
Heathrow’s management used to boast that one of its great benefits is the high fares airlines can charge passengers there, which tells you everything you need to know about who pays for these daft decisions.
So as the Scottish Parliament’s event draws to a close on Thursday night, and Heathrow thanks its Scottish cheerleaders for a lobbying job well done, I’ll happily welcome guests to our much more exciting celebration of what can be achieved if we raise our sights and imagine what we can do without London’s help. Whether we choose to do so remains to be seen.