WESTMINSTER is using freeport and levelling up funds to hold Scotland hostage with our own taxpayers’ cash. But no politicians except the Scottish Greens are calling foul.

Why not?

The Scottish Government has tried to rebrand Rishi Sunak’s latest race-to-the-bottom wheeze as Scottish green freeports. C’mon now – that just doesn’t wash.

The whole point of freeports is to let capitalism rip – companies can dodge taxes, import tariffs and normal terms of employment. The Scottish Government can recommend fair working practices but they can’t enforce them or stop freeports becoming gigantic coastal Amazon depots, with casual working and probably no extra jobs as existing companies just move from neighbouring locations. As for the green badge – really?

Why would any company take on the extra cost of meeting net zero targets by 2045, when the freeport tax reliefs run out in five years’ time?

It’s a pig in a poke and it should have been called out as such. Indeed it was.

READ MORE: Why is there an SNP-Green row over freeports in Scotland?

Last September the SNP conference passed a motion from the party’s Trade Union Group opposing freeports and setting six tests to safeguard workers’ rights and prevent job churn – almost impossible for these free-market havens to pass. Since the motion was actually selected for debate suggests that it chimed with the SNP leadership’s view – last September. But now the Scottish Government is backing freeports with a green fig leaf sae scanty and a rationale sae wobbly it’s actually embarrassing.

What changed? Fa kens.

Perhaps they thought the Westminster Government wasn’t really serious about freeports. Strange, cos they’ve been banging on about it for years. Perhaps they realised that Scottish councils and communities, even SNP councils, would apply directly to Whitehall if the Scottish Government wasn’t involved – a reasonable worry. This way, even if trade unions are still excluded from the panel that selects the “lucky” winners, the Scottish Government has a shout and can make sure there’s no repeat of the snub administered by Boris Johnson to the Acorn carbon capture proposal in Peterhead.

How popular would Nicola Sturgeon be if the Tories used her refusal to get involved with freeports as an excuse to deny two Scottish ports £53 million? Especially when that money is our own taxpayers’ cash.

And yet, getting involved also has dangers.

At a political level it lets the UK Government crow about “a landmark deal agreed between the UK and Scottish governments to collaborate and deliver two green freeports in Scotland ... [which] will bring jobs and prosperity, and support UK Government work to level-up all four corners of the United Kingdom”.

In case you skipped it, let me repeat that last line. Scottish green freeports will “support UK Government work to level-up all four corners of the United Kingdom”.

Scottish Government endorsement for Westminster’s levelling up propaganda. Nice, eh?

Messrs Gove, Sunak and Johnson will keep that in their hip pockets ready to wave at the SNP when it suits them.

First, though they’re working through 45 other breath-taking bits of political coercion. Every council in Scotland can submit one bid for £20 million worth of Whitehall levelling up cash – so long as their MP endorses it. No MP endorsement – no bid.

So of course, no MP will refuse to sign up and trill enthusiastically about their council’s preferred scheme (whatever they think of it privately and however strongly they oppose Westminster calling the shots, bypassing Holyrood and making random capital allocations of Scotland’s own taxpayer-generated cash.

No-one will risk losing vast sums to regenerate deprived local communities.

So, they are quietly cooperating. To get their council’s bid over the line, MPs might even invite Michael Gove and his apparatchiks to tour that poverty hotspot, likely brought low by Tory austerity, Tory sanctions and Tory benefits that are the lowest in the developed world.

It would stick in anyone’s throat. But 45 SNP MPs are having to grin and bear it because of the sums involved.

Some £20 million for 32 councils (with more for extra city-wide projects) is over £700 million that’s up for competitive bids – dwarfing the £53 million coming from Westminster to finance those two vexed freeports.

It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating.

ALREADY Michael Gove has been able to wave letters signed by SNP MPs supporting his “Levelling-Up” process, when the slightest whiff of criticism arises from SNP benches.

Give the Tories their due. They’re cute – essentially blackmailing trade unions, communities, councils and the Scottish Government. Pucker up, trill about the levelling up process and put a sock in your legitimate political concerns – or deprived communities in Scotland £700 million.

How would you respond?

Well, surely there was a middle way where the Scottish Government accepted a role – through gritted teeth. Refused to enthuse. Refused to endorse a bad idea by rebadging it. Refused to do anything other than sit on the selection committee.

Instead, Kate Forbes’ glowing endorsement means the Scottish Government is politically attached to a flawed, regressive Westminster plan and the inevitable criticism, gripes from unsuccessful contenders and difficulties ahead will all get laid at Kate Forbes’ door not Rishi Sunak’s.

Put simply, the Scottish Government have rebranded a disastrous Tory policy – now they own it. Lock, stock and broken barrel. Why did they do that?

Why didn’t Nicola, Kate or the mysteriously absent Trade Minister Ivan McKee just explain the Government’s predicament to Scottish voters – a predicament that arises directly from the fact that Holyrood is a subservient devolved parliament not a sovereign, independent one?

Levelling up blackmail makes the case for independence – because our democratically elected Scottish Government must support a Tory policy that’s opposed by a sizeable majority of MSPs.

Voters aren’t stupid. We know that sometimes our leaders must jump like poodles to secure money for this country. It’s part and parcel of London control. It’s why we want change. Sometimes, despite opposing everything Westminster does, the Scottish Government believe they huvtae knuckle down.

But they dinnae huvtae like it.

They dinnae huvtae go quietly.

And they absolutely dinnae huvtae buy into the Tory lie that freeports will transform the Scottish economy.

IN the bad old days when Scottish Labour’s PFI was the only game in town, some SNP councils used it – complaining all the way about that deeply flawed funding model – until a public funding alternative was produced by the SNP government elected in 2007, partly because of Scottish Labour’s advocacy of cripplingly expensive private partnerships.

READ MORE: SNP grassroots demand 'urgent answers' as backlash against freeport plan grows

Calling out bad Unionist policy was the right strategy then and it would be the right strategy now.

If the Scottish Government deployed it. But they didn’t. So, a few questions now land at their door.

If workers’ rights in green freeports diverge from EU standards, how will that help Scotland’s case for re-entry upon independence? Or will they have vanished by then? Likely.

So many planning and fairness policies bent out of shape, so much upheaval and humiliation – all for five short years of Westminster funding for corporate Scotland.

Since the Tories are clearly set to continue their levelling up blackmail, can the SNP reconsider their policy of smiling appeasement?