I have three words for Nicola Sturgeon – rip it up.
Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to tear up a deal her Scottish Government signed with Heathrow Airport ahead of the global COP26 climate summit later this month.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, insisted that global leaders would not “take seriously” her commitment to tackle climate change unless she were to “rip up” the memorandum of understanding signed with the London Airport.
He made the challenge as he addressed a virtual conference of Scottish and Welsh Liberal Democrats.
To tackle the climate emergency, the new Scottish Lib Dem leader said he wanted to offer “new hope for the climate emergency with fresh ideas for every part of the crisis facing our planet”.
He called for a new “railcard entitlement” so that everyone could benefit from significantly reduced train fares, encouraging them to travel by rail rather than boarding domestic flights.
He also argued that powers of air passenger duty, which are being devolved to Scotland, should be used to increase charges for those who fly more often.
He made the calls at the same time as he challenged the First Minister to cancel the “contract” her government had signed with Heathrow.
In October 2016, the Scottish Government formally backed a third runaway at that airport as it signed a memorandum of understanding linked to the benefits it believed this could bring to Scotland.
With regard to that, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “I have three words for Nicola Sturgeon – rip it up.”
The Lib Dem leader added: “Rip up your contract in support of a third runway at Heathrow. And do it before COP26 lands in Glasgow.
“Because unless you do First Minister, I can’t take your commitment to the climate emergency seriously, and neither should the watching world.”
He said the Scottish Government had recently “admitted” climate change targets can not be met “if everyone flies as much as they used to”.
But he said calls from ministers for aviation to fall by a third from pre-pandemic levels were “just a statement” when at the same time the “Scottish Government holds a contract with the single biggest polluter in the entire United Kingdom – that’s Heathrow airport”.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The SNP talk the language of environmentalism but their economic policy is predicated on maximum extraction of fossil fuels from the North Sea and 75,000 extra flights between Scotland and London by 2040.”
He attacked the Scottish Government over it record on the NHS, as he called for ambulance waiting times – which have risen during the coronavirus crisis – to be published weekly.
And he made his clear his opposition to “deceptive plans” from the SNP administration to establish a new National Care Service.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “Unlike the NHS it won’t offer care that is free at the point of delivery. And it does so to hide what it truly is – another SNP power grab.”
He announced the creation of a new Liberal Democrat Commission for a Just Economy, to be chaired by former MSP Lord Purvis.
This will make recommendations to next year’s party conference to “reset our liberal vision for Scotland” with a focus on areas such as social justice and human rights.
The conference was his first since taking on the job of Scottish Liberal Democrat leader in August. And while he said some had described it as a “toughest job in Scottish politics” he insisted it would “not be anywhere else”.
Mr Cole-Hamilton asked party activists: “Do you ever get that feeling of being exactly where you’re meant to be? Well I feel that.
“Leading our party, right here and right now. I feel it in the canvass sessions I join and in the local party meetings I attend, I feel it when I lead for our party in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament. I would not be anywhere else.
“We’ve been written off and counted out every step of my political career, we’ve come back stronger and we’ve come back harder. I would not be anywhere else. I’ve been told that I am currently doing the toughest job in Scottish Politics, well I’m already loving it and I’m just getting started.”
Katrine Bussey is the PA Scotland political editor.