BIDS for a free port n Scotland could be open by the end of January and a site named months later, if Holyrood gives them the green light.

The Scottish Government has been urged by the Treasury to grant permission for the special sites north of the border, with plans to confirm successful bids by mid-2021.

In a letter sent by Steve Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury, the Scottish Government’s Trade Secretary Ivan has been told the plans could “greatly benefit the people of Scotland”.

The Herald understands Mr Barclay has provided Mr McKee with economic arguments for free ports as well as an offer of a meeting to go over them in more detail.

The Treasury is also hoping that the sites for all free ports across the UK can be decided in a coordinated way across all four nations.

Free ports are areas with special tax status, and are being introduced by the UK Government in England to mitigate some of the economic damage caused by Brexit by encouraging more trade.

Companies which operate within free ports can defer paying tax until their products move elsewhere, or can sometimes pay no tax at all if they manufacture products on site and export them.

However so far the Scottish Government has not approved them for Scotland, arguing there is not enough information being made available by Westminster

On Monday SNP conference delegates were asked to pass a motion saying free ports would not mitigate the impacts of Brexit, which passed.

Last week Holyrood ministers launched a survey to gather the views of businesses on designated economic zones such as free ports and enterprise areas.

Several ports in Scotland have expressed an interest in gaining free port status including Cromarty, Aberdeen and Dundee however fears have been raised that they will provide low-paid jobs only.

In his letter to Mr McKee, Mr Barclay wrote: “ I strongly believe that Freeports will greatly benefit the people of Scotland through increased investment and job opportunities to rejuvenate left-behind communities and promote economic growth.”

Mr McKee previously described free ports as a “shiny squirrel” designed to distract from “other bad stuff going on in the trade arena” and indicated that his government would not support them.

Opposition MPs have been highly critical of their stance, saying Scottish ports and the economy as a whole will be disadvantaged if other areas of the UK have free ports but Scotland does not.

They fear business could go elsewhere in the UK instead of to Scotland should free ports be blocked.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Freeports cannot and will not offset the damage caused by Brexit, which is taking Scotland and the UK out of the world’s biggest free trade area and single market.

“Our ambition for Scotland’s economy is to continue to build a high productivity, high wage, innovative economy built on the strength of our world leading technology, businesses and academic clusters. This is the focus of our inward investment strategies.

“In Scotland, we have our own approach to developing and growing the economy and we will want to ensure that the UK Government’s proposals for freeports can be made to work with our ambition for a low carbon and wellbeing economy, that also targets investment geographically and strategically. We are also determined to ensure a green recovery from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, with new, clean and green jobs being created.

“Now that more details of the UK Government’s proposals are available, we are surveying the views of stakeholders and partners in the public and private sectors across Scotland, and the results of this survey will be crucial in informing our response early in the New Year.”