With questions still unanswered over the Scotland/China Memorandum of Understanding and Amnesty International now inveighing against the deal, Alex Bell looks at what it tells us about the SNP.
It is often hard to work out what the SNP want.
It should be straightforward – to protect what is ‘Scottish’ while helping the country develop.
Certainly when in opposition there was no trouble – at the mere whiff of a Scottish job being lost, institution closed or ancient law reformed, they’d be up in arms.
In office, it is a very different picture.
The Chinese Memorandum of Understanding is a perfect example of how the SNP are capable of holding multiple contradictory positions, glued together by a bullying insistence that they are acting in the interests of Scotland.
This MoU is between the Scottish Government and SinoFortone and China Railways No3 Engineering Group.
For reasons not fully explained, its existence was not mentioned until the recent election campaign had begun.
Because electoral rules kicked in, the SNP were conveniently unable to reveal the full details of the MoU while fighting for votes.
Safely returned to office, the Government reacted to a flurry of questions about the MoU by releasing 70 pages of related documents.
It the old trick of appearing to be open by publishing material, while avoiding the need to answer direct questions.
In an act of staggering arrogance, or amusing cheek, they then called on opposition parties to apologise for ever suggesting there was something dodgy about the deal.
Instead opponents suggested there was indeed something suspect.
China Railways Group has been proscribed by others, notably the Norwegian Oil fund investors, as having a bad human rights record.
The detail appeared to show approval for the mass production of 5,000 kit houses by the Chinese.
To which Nicola Sturgeon has said her welcome for the idea was a non-committal pleasantry.
The most striking thing about the MoU is that it exists at all. A non-sovereign nation seeking independence might balk at the idea of trading a substantial amount of economic activity to a foreign power.
Had a Tory government suggested such a deal, it seems likely the SNP would have roared in disapproval, saying it showed how Scots were powerless in the face of dark forces.
The British economic model is unique for selling off stuff and hoping to profit from the inward investment.
Yet again, we are left wondering what exactly the SNP mean by independence. It appears quitting Westminster is essential, but selling sovereign control of vital economic activity not so much.
The SNP show a remarkable lack of ‘nationalism’ when it comes to outside companies running things – under them, the rail franchise has gone to a Dutch company, private water supply (once public) to an English company and Cal Mac was nearly killed off by an outside rival.
Why Scotland should passionately want to trade a political union only to be bound in onerous economic obligations is anyone’s guess.
After deals with Trump and a suspect Chinese firms, the impression is that the SNP would deal with the Devil to make a buck, only having second thoughts when headlines appear about cloven hooves on the Cabinet table.
Relying on inward investment – Scotland’s strategy for some decades now – does create jobs, but as has been shown time and again, doesn’t build indigenous large scale companies.
The Chinese fabricating 5,000 buildings may sound like a solution to a housing crisis, but simply adds to the wider crisis in our economy.
It would have left our architectural talent to whistle in the wind – and the same applies to a range of design, engineering and creative talent which you’d imagine a nationalist government would want to nurture.
Builders and decorators wouldn’t have got much of a look-in either – for a government that endlessly talks of ‘growing the economy’ it is deeply peculiar to think think giving jobs to foreign companies is a good way forward.
Nor does the SNP mean independence from the past, of secretive government and the whiff of corruption.
The MoU wasn’t made public and clearly aspects of it are still secret. 5,000 houses would run up a bill in the millions – but this is the £10 bn deal. We are not being told what the real deal was for.
Nor does it help that a major party donor, Brian Souter, appears to have been a factor in the negotiations.
Far from Scotland breaking free of the Tory and Labour cabals, the impression is there that the SNP favours its friends.
We are told, despite the evidence of fading enthusiasm from the leadership, that the SNP stands for independence. Just not independence from the old secretive ways, or independence from the impression of corruption, or independence for the nation’s talent desperately looking for creative jobs, or independence from an old economic model.
Yet rather than give us a coherent analysis of how a small-ish economy like Scotland’s might create jobs, the government message from this debacle has been to scold critics for potentially putting off other investors.
The Chinese memorandum may be dying given the negative publicity, but that still leaves two questions. What prize was worth £10 bn that Nicola was prepared to give away and what kind of Scotland does the SNP want?