The sight of Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie vigorously tearing up a piece of paper was one of the more unusual spectacles at First Minister’s Questions.
He wasn’t disposing of Lord Steel’s party membership card, as one wag suggested. Rather the gesture was intended as a dramatic way of telling Nicola Sturgeon to “rip up” the document the Scottish Government signed in support of a third Heathrow Runway.
Mr Rennie’s line of attack was inspired by the Court of Appeal ruling that the UK Government’s decision to allow expansion of the airport was unlawful because it did not take climate commitments into account.
The Lib Dem leader was trying to highlight what has been a difficult issue for Ms Sturgeon and the SNP. In 2016, the Scottish Government gave its support to the third runway by signing a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Heathrow.
The support was offered on the basis that it would create thousands of jobs in Scotland. But that position became more difficult for Ms Sturgeon when she declared a climate emergency in April last year. Then it as pointed out to the first minister that backing a project that would drive up carbon emissions was hardly compatible with her declaration.
Since then Ms Sturgeon has said she would review the Scottish Government’s stance, but has stopped short of withdrawing support.
In his opening gambit, Mr Rennie asked: was the first minister “glad” that the court had stopped the third runway?
Ms Sturgeon replied saying that she wanted all Holyrood and Westminster polices to align with her ambition to have net zero emissions by 2045.
There had, she said, been “understandably and rightly” questions about whether Heathrow expansion chimed with tackling climate change.
I am not sure how I can make my position any clearer”
“I hope that that is clear to Willie Rennie,” Ms Sturgeon said. “I am not sure how I can make my position any clearer,” she added. The clarity offered by the first minister, however, did not extend to giving a straight answer to Mr Rennie’s original question.
Mr Rennie said the UK Government had failed to make an environmental assessment of the implications of a third runway when it signed the Memorandum of Understanding and ministers had “missed” 600,000 tonnes of emissions.
It was then that Ms Sturgeon resorted to telling Mr Rennie that the Heathrow decision was not one for the Scottish Government.
“It is not within our power or areas of responsibility,” Ms Sturgeon insisted. Thus, she was able to take advantage of a convenient get-out clause.
The ‘nothing-to-do-with-us’ device will doubtless be wheeled out when Scottish ministers are confronted by angry businesses who had hoped an extra runway would boost Scottish connectivity.
Sturgeon urged to examine Donald Trump’s golfing interests
Meanwhile the Green co-convener Patrick Harvie was waiting to ambush the first minister over Donald Trump’s extensive Scottish golfing interests.
Mr Harvie urged the first minister to apply to the Court of Session to force the US President to reveal how the purchase of Aberdeenshire’s Trump International Golf Links and Trump Turnberry could be funded.
The Green co-convener said there was a legal mechanism called an unexplained wealth order which could reveal where Mr Trump got his cash for the courses when the world was in the grip of the financial crisis.
Ms Sturgeon said she was “no defender” of Mr Trump and would look at the issue in more detail. Watch this space.