The SNP's deal with China is either impressive or not finalised—it cannot be bothby John McTernan / April 8, 2016 / Leave a comment
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the SNP spring conference in Glasgow. 12th March 2016 ©Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images Read m0re: The SNP has failed Scotland Scotland has its own foreign policy. Mini-embassies in Washington DC, Toronto, Beijing. Civil servants termed “First Secretaries”—for all the world as if they are diplomats. Documents such as “The Scottish Government’s plan for engagement in the USA” and “The Scottish Government’s plan for engagement in Canada.” They are beyond boring—they are banal, bureaucratic boilerplate. Though, at times, they capture they capture the solipsistic and slightly sinister tone of the Scottish Government. “Working with China—A Five Year Strategy for Engagement between Scotland and the People’s Republic of China” states that it “provides a framework for any Scottish organisation that wishes to work with China.” Really? I bet RBS, Edinburgh University and Celtic Football Club—to pick just three organisations—are perfectly happy with their own “frameworks.” But the Scottish Government don’t care about either the boredom or mockery which their foreign policy postures provoke. The point is to sound, feel and act like a “Government.” Having the trappings rather than the responsibilities. This explains why the Scottish Government has boasted about a £10bn foreign direct investment (FDI) deal they have signed with two major Chinese companies in March: SinoFortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group (CR3). The signing of the deal was done in the highly ceremonial setting of Bute House—official residence of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon—and there were official photographs and a press statement with fulsome supportive quotes, not just from principals but from Scottish businesses. Brian Souter from Souter Investments and Malcolm Buchanan, Managing Director of Corporate & Commercial Banking in Scotland and Chair of the Scotland board at RBS, give supportive quotes in a release which opens: “Scotland will work with Chinese partners to bring about infrastructure projects with a potential value of £10 billion following the signing of an agreement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon… The agreement will pave the way for significant investment in areas such as clean energy, transport and affordable housing.” Great news for Nicola Sturgeon: a wee country is punching above its weight: doing deals with global giants, making progress in key policy areas, getting investment in infrastructure. A big deal deserves a big push for the press. Given that the SNP had boasted about the deal, you would certainly expect one to follow. Except it never came. While the Scottish Government issued releases on “Interim protections” for the beaver population, changes to dog fouling fines, new laws on burials and cremations and even new guidance on hospital food they said nothing on the £10bn for housing, transport and energy. This announcement was simply placed on the website of one of the Chinese companies, SinoFortone The whole saga reminds one of the famous exchange between Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard detective Gregory in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of Silver Blaze. Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” Holmes: “That was the curious incident.” In this case what is curious is the silence of the SNP machine. That is until Sunday when, with no ceremony, the text of what had been on a Chinese website for weeks was put up on the Scottish government’s. What is this all about? Of course, there may be a straightforward explanation, but in the current political climate in Scotland none is needed. SNP members and supporters have mounted a two-pronged defence of the deal. They have said: “Why are you criticising this deal? It’s great news for Scotland. Why are you running Scotland down?” And “There’s nothing concrete been agreed. Move on, there’s nothing to see.” Well, it’s either one or the other. Great or de minimis. Not both. We shall see in due course. And, of course, one can’t help feeling that the crisis that has erupted about Tata Steel and the cost of Chinese “dumping” of steel has more than a little to do with the Scottish Government’s newfound reticence. The more interesting thing is the insight the handling of this deal has given into the mentality of the SNP. There is only one dimension on which sense can be made of the two conflicting lines of argument used by their supporters: that is the dimension of believing that whatever the SNP do or say is always and inevitably in Scotland’s interests. If there is an absolute identity between party, government and country then they can never be wrong, make a misjudgement or err in any way. This is certainly not what a healthy political system looks like. It’s not how democracies are meant to function.