My article for Labour List on Heathrow expansion. You can also read the article on the Labour List website here.
I was always struck by the comment that Schipol Airport in the Netherlands was, in reality, Heathrow’s third runway. That is why the decision to expand Heathrow Airport and to build a third runway is long overdue. For Scotland, it is a decision that presents a significant opportunity.
While airports in the Middle East and in Europe have continued to expand over the past few decades, there has not been a new full-length runway in the South East of England since the 1940s. This has put the UK at a significant disadvantage as important opportunities for trade have been lost to other hub airports around the world.
For Scotland, access to a hub airport as relatively close as Heathrow is a significant benefit. As I have heard over the years, it means some of our most important exports have a route to other markets that is fast and reliable. Scotch whisky can quickly reach important markets in Asia and the USA, and Scottish salmon can be on supermarket shelves quickly in the rapidly growing Chinese market. The problem is that capacity to fly our wonderful products across the world is full.
For these businesses, and many others, the expansion of Heathrow will be very much welcomed. A third runway will deliver up to £17bn in economic growth for Scotland. Investing for this return as we face the looming threat of Brexit will be essential if the UK is to maintain and expand its trading relationships in the future.
Heathrow can also be a success story for Scottish jobs. Economic analysis suggests that up to 16,000 new jobs could be created by Heathrow expansion over time. However, the immediate shot in the arm to the UK’s construction sector, and its supply chain, would be felt soon after the first ground is broken at the site. We have guarantees that construction work and other services will be given to Scottish companies.
The significant and very immediate impact on jobs is why Heathrow has been welcomed by trade unions across the UK, and by the TUC. It’s why Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, has so clearly said that expansion will deliver jobs and growth “to every nation and region of the UK”.
In the coming weeks, my colleagues in the House of Commons will be asked to vote on the government’s airports national policy statement. This will be a significant moment. It is not often that a proposal comes to the House of Commons with the backing of such widespread support – the Tory government, the SNP government in Edinburgh, the majority of trade unions, the TUC and business organisations. This breadth of support should tell us what we need to know: this is a crucial infrastructure project for the future of our country. This is not just a London or South-East England airport. It is Scotland’s airport too.
I know and understand the environmental concerns that have been presented during discussions about Heathrow’s third runway. If I thought that these had not been addressed, I would not be supporting this proposal. In fact, as someone who regularly spends a lot of time circling London to be able to land at Heathrow, I am sure getting planes out of the sky and on to the ground quicker will help. The fact is that the environmental concerns – and other tests that were set by Labour in 2015 – have been met. And that is why I will be joining many Labour colleagues in the ‘aye’ lobby in the coming weeks.
As a party that aspires to be in government, we cannot set tests for ourselves then ignore them when it becomes politically convenient. We cannot take a project of crucial national economic importance and turn it into a political game. It is too important for our country, and the voters will see right through it.
With Brexit just around the corner, we need to prepare our country for all outcomes. If we do not approve Heathrow expansion, we are tying one hand behind our back as we try to find our way in a new global environment.
For Scotland, Heathrow is a crucial national investment that opens up jobs and opportunities for thousands of people, and billions of pounds of benefit to our economy. This crucial infrastructure investment cannot be delayed any further.
It is a vital project that will connect business across our communities to global trade for generations to come. It’s time to get on with the job.