HUMZA Yousaf has defended Scotland’s green freeports amid criticism from within his own party.

Speaking exclusively to The National on the last day of our exclusive series, the First Minister said the greenports are “more moulded” to Scotland’s interests – and dismissed claims that they could threaten an independent Scotland joining the EU.

Yousaf's comments came after SNP members raised "extreme" concerns about the impact of the freeports, and called for a "thorough review" into their implementation.

Inverness and Cromarty Firth green freeport and Forth green freeport were announced as Scotland’s two winning bids in January last year through a scheme agreed by the Scottish and UK governments – which offers special tax incentives and lower tariffs around ports, with the aim of stimulating economic growth.

Scotland’s so-called "green freeports" are different from UK freeports in that they have a particular focus on contributing to the Scottish Government's net zero and fair work agenda.

READ MORE: What are green freeports? Everything you need to know about the schemes

“For me, it's important that the Scottish Government engaged and tried to get a different model compared to the UK freeport model,” Yousaf said.

“And we have that with the greenport model up here in Scotland, which meets our needs in terms of renewables, around regeneration and sustainable job creation.

“So I completely accept where some of the concerns are in relation to green freeports. But for me, I think it's the right model for Scotland – better than the model that would have been imposed on us.”

There are concerns – including from SNP trade unionists – that the Scottish Government doesn’t have the legal authority to fully guarantee fair work safeguards and ambitions for the freeports.

When asked about this, Yousaf responded: “Fair work was one of the key conditions for us when we were negotiating with the UK Government on the greenport model.

“In terms of levers that we've got, we're working with the UK Government and I'm very confident that when it comes to attracting businesses – which will have a huge economic boom for the areas of the greenports – that fair work is absolutely embedded within any investment opportunity that comes Scotland's way.”

The National:

One of the most contested issues in this week’s green freeports series has been whether they threaten the prospect of an independent Scotland joining the EU.

Ross Greer told The National 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”.

Trade minister Richard Lochhead, meanwhile, said there was “no evidence” this would prevent Scotland joining the EU.

Yousaf said he agreed with his SNP colleague.

“I don’t think there’s a threat. There's a number of freeport models across Europe and in EU member states,” he said.

When asked how the Scottish Government will ensure Scotland benefits, rather than multinational companies, Yousaf said: “First of all, it's why we put the various different conditions in our green freeport model.

“We want to ensure that fair work is at the heart of it – not just job creation that doesn't take into account people's pay terms and conditions. That's what's really important.”

He added: “It’s going to help us to meet our net zero ambitions and targets. We have very ambitious targets. We have huge renewable potential and we believe this freeport model is going to help us.

“And as I said, we frankly had a choice of having the freeport model that the UK Government is using across the UK imposed upon us, or have a model that we think can help with our ambitions around fair work or around meeting net zero.

“So I've got a lot of confidence that they will be very good for the communities they’re based in and the wider region and country.”

Some have raised concerns that it could be contradictory for the SNP to have low tax freeports whilst hiking up tax for higher earners.

“I can understand what some of the concerns are,” the First Minister said.

“I've read The National series and heard some of the feedback in terms of people's concerns.

“In terms of taxation, I don't see any contradiction in what we're doing around income tax in our control or, of course, in the limits of devolution.

“And we've chosen unapologetically to ask those who earn the most people like me to pay a little bit more so that we can invest in our public services. I think that's a good thing.

“Ultimately, we want to also make sure that Scotland is a really attractive place to do business and not just to do business, but to do great business.

“And I think the greenports can help.”