Nicola Sturgeon has rejected calls for the full disclosure of evidence that a publicly owned Scottish airport is being used for frontline military missions by US air forces and marines.
The first minister was pressed by Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green party leader, to release heavily redacted documents published by the Guardian revealing that the US military flew sorties and “active duty” missions from Prestwick airport in Ayrshire.
The memos also showed that the airport, which was brought into public ownership when Sturgeon was deputy first minister in 2013, signed valuable deals to supply the US military and pursued contracts at US military air shows after it was nationalised.
Speaking at first minister’s questions, Sturgeon said it was “a load of bunkum” to suggest Prestwick’s use by the US air force was a revelation, since it had been mentioned in the airport’s business plans.
She said it had been a staging post for the US air force (USAF) for 80 years, including a brief visit by Elvis Presley on his way home from Germany in 1960. “The fact that it provides fixed-base operations and refuelling facilities for military flights is neither new nor a revelation,” she said.
Harvie accused Sturgeon of being dismissive and of failing to address the questions raised by the new documents. He said the central issue was whether the USAF had used Prestwick to mount bombing operations and military strikes, and whether ministers had known about it.
Opposition parties accused Sturgeon’s government of hypocrisy on Wednesday, since the Scottish National party, which she leads, had been the most vocal critics of US and western military strikes in the Middle East.
SNP ministers have signed three motions tabled by the SNP at Holyrood condemning airstrikes on Syria and attacking Labour’s failure to follow an ethical foreign policy by allowing UK army bases to be used by the Syrian military.
Scottish ministers owned Prestwick, which has lost more than £26m in public ownership, but seemed to believe they had no responsibilities to protect the public interest, Harvie said. “This public asset now appears to have based its business model on servicing military attacks that the Scottish government claims to oppose and promoting the toxic Trump brand, which can only damage Scotland’s reputation,” he said.
The first minister also claimed that the Scottish government had published the material seen by the Guardian. The memos and documents were very heavily redacted by government officials, and redacted again when the Guardian requested their full disclosure on appeal.
Speaking after first minister’s questions, Sturgeon’s spokesman refused to say whether she was now acknowledging that ministers knew the US military flew frontline operations and sorties from Prestwick. He also refused to answer media questions on whether the first minister was happy that such flights took place. “I have nothing further to add to what the FM said in the chamber,” he said.
Other documents released by the Scottish government show that its economy secretary, Keith Brown, took part in Prestwick airport board meetings and had numerous meetings with airport executives. Long sections of this documents are redacted.
He had confirmed previously at Holyrood that he closely scrutinised Prestwick’s dealings and checked that it deserved further government loans, which could reach £48m this year. “We analyse each request for finance and ensure that the taxpayers’ money is being looked after,” he told MSPs in March 2017.
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