THE National’s series on Scotland’s green freeports comes to an end today.

We hope you have enjoyed all the exclusive content this week – hearing from key players including trade minister Richard Lochhead, Highlands freeport CEO Calum Macpherson and STUC general secretary Roz Foyer.

Here is a breakdown of all the articles you’ve seen:

Questions and points of debate still remain – from what the country’s two green freeports mean for an independent Scotland’s place in the EU, to what extent the Scottish Government has the legal authority to guarantee their net zero and fair work ambitions.

We have received an overwhelming amount of reader interest and will continue to cover Scotland’s green freeports extensively – particularly given the Inverness and Cromarty Firth’s green freeport’s tax sites officially go live from Monday (April 8) – as we revealed in the first article in the series.

But, for now, here is a breakdown of the main issues discussed and key points from this week:

It’s full steam ahead for Scotland’s green freeports

Both of Scotland’s two winning bids – Inverness and Cromarty Firth as well as Forth (map of which is below) – aren’t technically green freeports until the final business case is approved by the Scottish and UK governments, upon which a total of £52 million of seed funding will be released.

The National:

However, only the outline business case needs to be approved before the respective green freeports’ tax sites go live – meaning businesses can start to benefit from special tax incentives and lower tariffs around these ports.

The National:

As The National revealed in our first article in the series, the Inverness and Cromarty Firth (above) green freeport’s tax sites officially go live on Monday (April 8).

A spokesperson for Forth green freeport, meanwhile, informed us that their outline business case is still waiting for approval.

The ambitions are very strong, but so are the concerns

I didn’t doubt the ambition when I spoke with Calum Macpherson (below), the CEO of Inverness and Cromarty Firth green freeport.

He called it "the biggest industrial development in our lifetimes” – even saying that the UK Government’s claim the scheme could bring up to £10 billion in investment and 75,000 new, high-skilled jobs to the two areas was an “underestimate”.

“I do slightly wonder if it were happening in the Central Belt, whether it would have had more attention,” he added.

“Sometimes we just have to scream a bit louder.”

The National:

He highlighted that this was particularly the case given Scotland’s renewable energy potential – particularly for both pumped hydro schemes and offshore wind.

But with that ambition comes doubt and concern. Critics note that past experiments with freeports – including in the UK – have proven less successful.

There is also evidence that freeports can become hubs for criminal activity – including trade in counterfeit goods, drug trafficking, smuggling of untaxed goods or trade-based money laundering.

What do green freeports REALLY mean for an independent Scotland’s EU ambitions?

This was perhaps the most contested of issues in this week’s series.

On Tuesday, we ran an exclusive interview with Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer who said that the EU are moving away from the freeport model and their implementation in Scotland could see the country “diverge from EU standard practice and minimum standards” and could lead to a “delay or an outright challenge to Scotland's accession process”.

The National: Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer in the Scottish Parliament

Scotland’s trade minister Richard Lochhead responded, claiming that there was “no evidence [for the claim]”.

“Many 'free zones' are in operation across European Union member states, including those similar in design to the green freeports,” he said.

“The UK had previously established freeports while an EU member state.”

Lochhead was right on the facts. The first freeports did open in the UK in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher while an EU member state. In 2012, the Tory-led government decided not to renew their licences.

There are indeed also freeports, or "free zones", in the EU. Although, in 2020, the EU clamped down on 82 of them after identifying that their special tariff and duty status had also aided the financing of terrorism and organised crime.

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Then, post-Brexit, Rishi Sunak pushed freeports again with the argument that without governance by the EU, the UK has more freedom over the flexibilities and concessions it can offer in the free zones.

This is due to the fact that EU freeports are governed by EU rules on state aid, which stop member states using selective tax exemptions and financial incentives to distort competition.

The establishment of the UK’s freeports has led to some friction with EU officials, who have doubts the scheme is in line with the post-Brexit trade deal.

Lochhead argued that Scotland’s green freeports are more in line with ones across the EU given their focus on the Scottish Government's Net Zero and Fair Work agenda.

But there are concerns – which will be explored more below – that the Scottish Government doesn't have all the powers needed to ensure this is the case.

There is still work to do to inform local communities

On Tuesday, I set out for Rosyth – which is home to one of Forth green freeport’s proposed tax sites – where businesses are set to benefit from special tax incentives and lower tariffs around the local dockyard once the business case is approved.

My mission? Find out what the locals thought of the green freeport.

But it didn’t take long before I realised I had to pivot as very few knew what I was even talking about.

In fact, of the over 40 people I spoke to – only three had even heard of it.

The main consensus from all, however, was that they would like to learn more about them.

“The community needs to be involved in it, they’ve got their opinions and they’ve got to understand what’s going on,” Fiona (below) told me.

“Otherwise, you’ll get resentment.”

Stephanie, another Rosyth local, told me the fact she doesn’t know anything about it – especially given the concerns some have – was “quite annoying”.

“We don’t know what’s going on in the town as it is. It’s just dying a death, it’s horrible.”

She added that she had heard something about 1000 new jobs in the nearby dockyard on the front page of a local newspaper.

“But where are the workers coming from? Is it going to help the local community? We don’t know. It’s just a dearth of information.”

Forth Green Freeport, in a comment to us, highlighted that they have communicated with stakeholders through "face-to-face briefings, the website, presentations, a newsletter, news media and a social media campaign".

“Once our business case has been approved, and the green freeport is effectively live, we look forward to engaging with local communities," a spokesperson added.

Who actually has the legal authority?

Trade minister Richard Lochhead was keen to stress that Scotland's green freeports will be very different to those down south.

He said they will “adapt” the UK model to ensure the “distinct needs and interests of the Scottish economy are met”.

He added: “This means helping deliver our net zero economy and ensuring a Fair Work First approach, generating thousands of high-quality, well-paid jobs with fair work practices at their heart and the real Living Wage paid.”

But trade unionists – including the SNP TUG – have doubts the Scottish Government has the legal authority to fully guarantee these safeguards and ambitions for the freeports.

The Unite Scottish Secretary Derek Thomson said much the same, telling The National the Scottish Government were “forced to acknowledge to us that it has next to no legal powers to enforce the Real Living Wage or to enable access for trade unions”.

Roz Foyer (below), the secretary general of the STUC, said it is still "unclear" what the green freeports mean for workers.

The National: Roz Foyer has called for assurances for workers on all ports

Calum Macpherson, the CEO of Inverness and Cromarty Firth, also had an interesting answer when asked about how they can enforce, say, rules regarding fair work.

He told The National that those included in their tax sites have signed an agreement including obligations to report back to the Scottish Government and UK Governments and that if these rules are breached, they won’t receive the tax benefits.

When asked about who has the power to do that, he responded: “To be totally transparent, the local things like non-domestic rate relief and some of those elements are easier for us to control. Obviously the tax sites are created by a UK Act of Parliament so where they breach that we would then look at how we can change the legislation.

“But we've got support from the UK and Scottish governments that if somebody isn't playing ball, then we will enforce that and we will also act locally we can hit them quickly.”

With concerns over the freeports being another “Westminster power grab”, further clarity on enforcement and how it operates (and who will ultimately be able to make those decisions) is an issue worthy of further exploration.