DESPITE their name, there is nothing green about so-called "green freeports".

There is nothing new about them either. They are a failed Tory gimmick first tried under Thatcher as "enterprise zones" before being reheated under George Osborne and again under Boris Johnson.

Freeports are special economic zones which offer big tax breaks, lower tariffs and other incentives to (usually very big) businesses. They are designated areas of up to 45km where normal rules and regulations do not apply. They are essentially subnational tax havens.

In theory, freeports are supposed to lead to the creation of new jobs and more investment in local economies, but the reality is very different. What they really offer is a toxic cocktail of public cash to multinational corporations who don’t need it, a race to the bottom on pay, working conditions & environmental protections and a litany of unnecessary tax breaks for the already wealthy.

READ MORE: Freeports in Scotland: What are they and what are the risks?

Where freeports have been attempted before they have only made regional inequality worse. 

When the Work Foundation studied Thatcher’s enterprise zones, they concluded that the vast majority of the jobs that had supposedly been “created” were not really new jobs. Rather, they had been displaced from other areas. This has already happened as the current round of English freeports is rolled out.

As an MSP representing the West of Scotland, I’m particularly concerned about the effect these two freeports, one in Cromarty and the other on the Forth, could have on the west and south of our country, particularly in the many communities I represent where deprivation is already very high.

Likewise, when analysing Osborne’s attempts to resurrect them, the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee found that when it came to jobs the results were “particularly underwhelming” and that the initial grand claims deserved much greater scrutiny.

If history is anything to go by, the beneficiaries will certainly not be local communities. They will be the usual multinational companies and rich shareholders, many of whom only ever pay lip service to workers rights and are already notorious tax avoiders.

Internationally, freeports have been consistently associated with the worst aspects of neoliberalism and disaster capitalism, including criminality. They regularly attract money laundering and smuggling in particular.

READ MORE: UK in 'serious breach of trust' over Cromarty freeport revelation

This was underlined by a European Parliamentary Research Service investigation published in 2020. It documented shocking evidence of tax evasion, counterfeiting, financial crime and outright looting.

Regardless of the branding, the so-called “greenports” being introduced in Scotland do not notably differ from the freeports the Tories are delivering in England. Would Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove have been so proud to announce them if they did?

I respect SNP colleagues for trying to raise the bar on fair work and environmental protections, but the lack of hard legal requirements is hugely worrying.

Warm words are not enough to protect people and planet from greedy corporations. Only legal obligations can do that. In this case there is plenty of the former and nowhere near enough of the latter.

That is why the Unite Union has warned that rather than "levelling-up", freeports could see “an employer free-for-all.”

The co-operation agreement that we negotiated with the Scottish Government specifically excludes freeports, so all Scottish Green MSPs will continue to oppose them.

We all recognised that this was not an area where compromise would be possible, but that it should not affect the other work we are doing together for the benefit of Scotland. This is based on a shared understanding that the public want to see two things from their politicians: Co-operation and integrity.

%image('16354390', type="article-full", alt="First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon with Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings Patrick Harvie")

Voters expect us to work together where that is possible, whether it be on delivering free bus travel for young people, the coming removal of peak fares from our railways, banning new coal mines and incinerators or banning LGBTQ conversion therapy. These are issues we either agreed on already or were able to reach agreement on via the ambitious policy programme in the Bute House Agreement.

But they also expect us to hold onto our own values. The Scottish Greens and the SNP are not the same party and there are important differences in our policy programmes and underlying ideologies. Co-operation means compromise, but it should not mean one or both parties sacrificing their core values. For the Scottish Greens, the issue of freeports fits into this category.

The Scottish Greens will play no part in rehashing Tory economic policies which have failed time and again.