Scotland’s overwhelming political consensus on Heathrow expansion
Holyrood's Shadow Finance Secretary Murdo Fraser writes ahead of the Commons vote on Heathrow expansion, which he says independent analysis shows, will create up to 16,000 jobs for Scotland and up to £17 billion in economic growth.
If you are fed-up of tiresome debates about Brexit or experts versus the rest, you are invited to come North this week. In Scotland, we have airport expansion to thank for the break out of consensus and a refreshing, pragmatic determination to do what is in our national interest.
Scotland will likely deliver overwhelming Commons votes in favour of Heathrow expansion because of the approach taken by our business groups, Trade Unions, the Scottish Government and leaders like Ruth Davidson. All have put personal politics to the side so this critical project can start in time for Brexit.
Why is it in Scotland’s interest to expand Heathrow? Heathrow is our islands’ only global hub airport, connecting all of us to the fast-growing markets around the world. And why not Gatwick, or airports like Edinburgh? What the two-and-a-half-year Airports Commission found was when you expand a global hub you uniquely drive growth into regional connections like Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness.
Collectively as Britons, this improves all our economic security, opportunities for our children and ability to compete in the world. To make this happen Scottish MPs and business groups have won concessions from Heathrow to protect landing slots and discount charges from Scottish cities, helping new rising destinations like Dundee get better connected to the world after expansion.
Local business groups are keeping up the pressure to make sure Heathrow is expanded. Inverness Chamber of Commerce said last week that Heathrow is “critical” to the Highland economy and it really makes a “huge difference to Highland business exports and for incoming tourism”.
They’re not kidding. Last year Heathrow and British Airways reopened its Inverness route. It carried 79,000 passengers and generated an extra £8 million per year in Inverness according to the local Chamber of Commerce. These numbers are backed up by anecdotal evidence in Inverness. There are young people in work, tourism businesses getting off the ground and more exports getting out to the world.
Heathrow’s impact is felt across Scotland, as our gateway to the world. Almost 3 million passengers a year travel between Heathrow and our airports, but further growth is restricted due to capacity issues. Scottish businesses exported £28.8 billion worth of goods in 2017 and many of these exporting businesses rely on Heathrow. They are now often constrained on exporting options because Heathrow is full.
One of the North of Scotland’s main employers is Walkers Shortbread. When I was growing up in Inverness in the 1970s, the company was already exporting shortbread to over 60 countries around the world. Today, it exports to over 100 countries, including to places as far away as Australia, Japan and Canada. Overseas sales now make up almost half of Walkers’ entire business. Regional connectivity between Inverness and to the world via Heathrow is vital if we are to keep creating well paid jobs in places like Inverness.
Consensus support for the project in regions across Scotland has allowed Heathrow to create an innovative build process where component parts will be manufactured across the UK and assembled at the airport. This means much needed engineering jobs can be created in every region, starting this year. Heathrow is working with the Scottish Government to locate one of these hubs in Scotland.
This is substance behind the headlines that Heathrow will create up to 16,000 jobs for Scotland, and up to £17 billion in economic growth, according to independent analysis based on data from the Airports Commission.
But it needs to be done in a way that is fair to Heathrow’s neighbours. I have heard first hand of Heathrow’s ambitious plans to reduce noise with a 6.5 hour no fly window every evening, guaranteed respite periods for each community and a world leading innovation program to bring forward new technology to get cleaner, quieter planes flying and no more airport traffic on the roads.
These are the reasons why Scottish colleagues at Westminster will be confident of overwhelming support for Heathrow - particularly from MPs that backed Brexit - who will now hopefully act in Scotland and Britain’s national interest.
2.8 million people travelled to Scotland via Heathrow last year. Perhaps more of you will come this year. Scotland has great food, hospitality and culture. But now, thanks to Heathrow expansion, we have perhaps the most distinctive offer of all – a break from political point scoring.
Murdo Fraser is the Shadow Finance Secretary & an MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife