The SNP has been accused of trying “weasel out” of a long-held commitment to replace air passenger duty in Scotland for purely political reasons.
The power has been devolved to Holyrood and Scotland’s air departure tax (ADT) was due to come into force in April next year, with ministers pledging to cut the levy by 50 per cent by the end of this Parliament before abolishing it altogether “when resources allow”.
However, Derek Mackay, the Finance Minister, told MSPs its introduction could be pushed back because proposals to continue with an exemption for passengers who fly from Highlands and Islands airports required EU approval under state aid rules.
He said discussions were ongoing with UK ministers to resolve the matter, and claimed their response so far as “disappointing”. He also insisted it remained the government’s policy to cut and then abolish the tax.
But opposition parties accused him of using the issue of EU approval as a means of kicking the plan – which is opposed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens – “into the long grass”.
They suggested his true motive was the fact that the Greens have ruled out doing any future budget deal with the SNP if it includes the planned APD cut. The minority administration got its previous budget passed in February by striking at deal with the Greens.