SNP activists have challenged the party’s leadership over a £52million plan for two freeports under Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda.

The SNP Trade Union Group said the decision to work with the UK Government risked “undermining devolution” and opening a lawless backdoor into the Scottish economy.

Reminding ministers it is SNP party policy to oppose freeports unless they meet six stringent tests, the group said it would raise the issue with the SNP’s ruling national executive committee. 

The two sites, which will be named in the summer, are designed to boost economic growth by offering tax breaks and other incentives to businesses in them. 

Centred around docks, airports or railheads, the freeport zones are up to 45km across. Aberdeen, Cairnryan, Cromarty, Dundee and Mossend rail terminal are candidates.

The SNP initially refused to work with the UK Government on the idea, but has now relented in return for the sites being called “green freeports” north of the border.

The SNP claims fair work and decarbonisation will be central to the scheme, but there is no legal duty on bidders to run freeports to hit targets or guarantee wage levels.

As Mr Johnson yesterday promoted the green freeports on his visit to Scotland, the Scottish Greens attacked their SNP partners in government over the plan.

Green MSP Ross Greer said the ports were a “corporate giveaway” and criticised the SNP for “working with the Tories” on them.

Bill Ramsay, the convener of the Trade Union group, which has over 14,000 members, later expressed worries from within the SNP.

He said: “We have concerns about the introduction of freeports in Scotland. Last year our party agreed six clear conditions which we believe makes them untenable - conditions which also apply to the Greenport variant, which was rejected by SNP party conference in September 2021.

“We of course recognise that as long as Scotland is part of the UK any Scottish devolved administration has a duty to work with the UK government, and to attempt to alleviate and or mitigate any policies of the UK government that are potentially harmful to Scotland.

“On the face of it, the decision to do a deal with the UK Government on these deregulated zones risks undermining devolution and opening a dangerous unregulated backdoor into the Scottish economy.  

“We will be raising this at the SNP’s National Executive Committee and seeking urgent answers from the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary [Kate Forbes]  about how all six conditions for Freeports and Greenports, agreed as policy by the SNP, will be met, and what statutory powers the Scottish Government can exercise to guarantee compliance.” 

The motion passed by the SNP conference expressed concern that "freeport proposals by the UK Government are a part of the agenda to undermine devolution" and that freeports have historically "been a haven for criminality, such as money laundering and people trafficking".

It added: "They also allow those operating within them to erode workers’ pay and conditions. 

"The only way a Freeport should be operated is with consideration for the entire community in which it is sited and as fair and just to all; and with correctly staffed controls by all relevant agencies – not just in the immediate vicinity, but across the wider geographical area."

The policy laid out six tests for freeport operation: 

- All businesses within them "must pay the real living wage as a minimum, as well as abiding by fair work practices"

- Mandatory trade union recognition 

- All businesses in freeports to help hit Scottish Net Zero targets

- Local councils fully funded to cope with the freeports

- Full compensation for local communities adversely affected by  freeports, paid for by the businesses operating within it

- Full health and safety, environmental and other law enforcement operating inside freeports

The motion concluded: "Conference agrees therefore that without securing the six requirements set out above in their entirety, Freeports should not established or permitted within Scotland."

Ms Forbes yesterday said green freeports were “very distinctive” from the kind previously rejected by her government, saying host sites would have to commit to Net Zero by 2045 and embed fair work, though these are not be legal duties. 

However Scottish Office minister Iain Stewart later appeared to undermine her, by saying the pursuit of Net Zero had also been “central” to freeports in England, where bidders must help deliver Net Zero by 2050 rather than 2045.