Climate change debate leads to heated exchange between party leaders

FM Sturgeon, local MPs Docherty-Hughes and O’Hara and Holyrood.

By Bill Heaney

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was at her feistiest in the Scottish Parliament today after Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie wound her up by denigrating the SNP’s record during the 20 years of devolved government for Scotland from Holyrood.

Mr Rennie started off by scorning the SNP’s most recent move on climate change.

He said: “This week, the Scottish Government abandoned its plan to abolish air passenger duty. It said that it is not consistent with its climate change ambitions.

“Is the First Minister seriously telling us that she has only recently discovered that hundreds of extra flights are bad for climate change? Will the Government now ditch its support for the third runway at Heathrow?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I am sure that Willie Rennie did not forget to notice that last week we had a new report from the Committee on Climate Change that recommended increased targets on tackling and reducing emissions. We, unlike any other Government in the United Kingdom so far, have accepted those recommendations.

“That means that we have to look across the range of our policies to make sure that they align with that increased scale of ambition. The air departure tax is one of those policies. There is a case that can be made for it—I have made that case often in the past—but it does not any longer align with our ambition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

“We will require to look at all our policies across all areas of Scottish Government responsibility through that new lens of climate change. Whether it is the policy that Willie Rennie cites today or any other policy, that is the commitment that we are making.

“I put the same challenge that I put last week to all the Opposition parties in this chamber, with the exception of the Greens: when we come to discuss workplace parking over the next few weeks, will the Opposition parties look at that through the lens of climate change or will they stick to their knee-jerk anti-climate change opposition?”

Rennie accused Sturgeon of deliberately dodging his question: “The question was about Heathrow and the third runway. The time for dithering is over, First Minister. A third runway with hundreds of extra flights will not help climate change.”

He added: “I cannot understand why the Scottish Government chose the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament to hand a raft of powers back to Westminster. When John Swinney handed back income tax powers, we thought that it was a one-off, but this week it was powers away on value added tax and, of course, social security powers have been sent back for five years.

“We have had the shambles of the police merger, the law on waiting times broken, schools slipping down the international rankings and the failing railways. After 12 years in power, is it not true that the First Minister is handing back powers to Westminster because her Government is so incompetent that it just cannot cope?”

The First Minister went into Nippy Nicola mode: “If all of that is true, imagine how frustrating it must be for Willie Rennie to know that we are still around 30 points ahead of his party in the opinion polls. For goodness’ sake! The fact of the matter is that, whether it is polls or real elections, people in Scotland know about the achievements of this SNP Scottish Government, which is why they want us to continue in office.”

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