Meeting date: Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 29 March 2017
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Education, SinoFortone and China Railway No 3 Engineering Group Memorandum of Understanding, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Rotary Clubs (Champions of Change Awards)
- Portfolio Question Time
- SinoFortone and China Railway No 3 Engineering Group Memorandum of Understanding
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Rotary Clubs (Champions of Change Awards)
SinoFortone and China Railway No 3 Engineering Group Memorandum of Understanding
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04919, in the name of Willie Rennie, on censure and apology on the anniversary of the Chinese agreement.15:52
This debate is about a £10 billion deal with two Chinese companies—one that has connections to human rights abuses in Africa, and the other that promised billions but, so far, has only bought a pub in Buckinghamshire.
Without any checks, the deal was signed by our First Minister. The Scottish shambles was born and Keith Brown was the midwife. Today’s debate is to discover why our First Minister’s signature is so cheap and how the Government and its economy secretary Keith Brown were so easily duped by a couple of gents in shiny suits and a knighthood. We seek an apology and to censure the economy secretary for the handling of this shambles.
Members will recall that all this began last spring. A document was signed by Peter Zhang, Sir Richard Heygate and the First Minister. It was an agreement between the Scottish Government, SinoFortone and China Railway No 3 Engineering Group and, we were told, it was worth £10 billion. A photograph was taken but no one in the Scottish media was told. We discovered it all only through the Chinese media, which is unusually shy for the Scottish National Party Government, we might think.
The Government did not do the basic checks. We did, and they immediately flagged concerns about gross corruption in CR3; concerns about human rights followed soon after. These are the words of Amnesty International UK in a letter to the First Minister last year about the China Railway Group:
“After undertaking detailed due diligence, the Norwegian fund concluded that there is ‘an unacceptable risk that the company is involved in gross corruption.’”
The letter went on to say:
“other members of the China Railway Group ... have been implicated in serious human rights violations in the DRC, including the violent removal of artisanal miners from sites and other forced evictions.”
Those are two serious concerns about human rights. Those concerns had been in the public domain for years. If only the Scottish Government had bothered to check.
The SNP went into defence mode. For defence number 1, the economy secretary, Keith Brown, told the BBC that CR3 had already invested in Wales, so it must be okay—except that it had not. He was confused, because it was SinoFortone that had supposedly invested in Wales. However, as we will discover later, that was not true either. Defence number 2 was that no specific projects had been discussed, yet officials were instructed to prioritise funding building sites in Falkirk for the Chinese—so, that was not true either. Defence number 3 by the Scottish Government was that it was not an agreement, anyway. However, I have seen the document, the signature and the picture: it was an agreement. There was an agreement and there were specific projects, but there was no track record in Wales.
The Scottish shambles, as it is known in China, was growing by the day, but the response from the Scottish Government was to claim that the deal did not exist, then to boast about the deal that it said did not exist and then to accuse everyone else of jeopardising the deal that it said did not exist. It was a shambolic response to the Scottish shambles.
Will the member take an intervention?
Not just now.
The oddest thing then was that everything went quiet for months. However, we discover that the deal is off: cue more outrage at us from the Scottish Government. However, what was strange was that the Scottish Government had not even picked up the phone to the Chinese. If it mattered that much, why was no effort made? However, that did not stop the fury about the deal that was off, with Scottish Government members condemning us while sitting idly at their desks in the Government’s tower.
I mentioned that SinoFortone had invested in Wales: £2 billion for two green power stations in Anglesey and Port Talbot, which would generate electricity from plant waste to power homes and grow prawns and vegetables. There was also a reported £700 million takeover bid for Liverpool Football Club and £100 million towards a £3.2 billion Hollywood-style Paramount theme park in Ghent planned by a Kuwaiti family. The group also claimed to be involved in London’s Crossrail company, holiday parks in Cornwall and the Lake District, a proposed science park in Cambridge and regeneration schemes in Huddersfield and Stoke-on-Trent.
However, here is the sting in the tail: all of that has come to nothing—zilch. It was all media puff to create an impression of financial strength and credibility. It was reported by The Independent that the First Minister’s signature had given confidence in SinoFortone to the people at Liverpool FC who were looking for an investor. Mr Zhang generated a cloud of publicity in one part of the country to build credibility to sign a deal in another part, which would help with the next deal. All the way along, the group gathered up schemes that it had absolutely nothing to do with. The Scottish Government was part of that sham because it had not bothered to check. The only purchase that SinoFortone seems to have completed is that of a £2 million pub—The Plough, at Cadsden in Buckinghamshire—and even that was funded by a loan from the taxpayer-backed Royal Bank of Scotland.
Sir Richard Heygate—remember him?—signed the agreement alongside the First Minister. However, he now admits that SinoFortone turned out to be—these are not my words—“all bollocks”. He has walked away, but to this day the Scottish Government stands by the agreement with SinoFortone and the China Railway No 3 Engineering Group. Scottish ministers were naive to lend any credibility to that enterprise; it shows how careless the First Minister was to put pen to paper on a deal with Chinese companies that she knew absolutely nothing about.
Scotland’s reputation on human rights has been tarnished by this shambles; the prospect of investment from sound Chinese and other sources has been diminished; and the time of officials and businesses has been wasted by a company that had no financial track record and tried to use everyone else to build one. Our economy secretary presided over all that. He should apologise to everyone for this shambles and he should be censured by the Scottish Parliament for this shambles.
That the Parliament notes that 21 March 2017 marked one year since the First Minister signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese companies, SinoFortone and China Railway No.3 Engineering Group; notes that extensive parliamentary questioning has revealed that Scottish ministers did not undertake basic checks on the companies prior to signing; further notes that China Railway Group was blacklisted by the Norwegian state pension fund and condemned by Amnesty International, and SinoFortone has been exposed as having no serious investment record; censures the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work for failing to exercise basic diligence initially and then subsequently criticising opposition MSPs for raising basic questions; calls on the Scottish Government to apologise and take steps to alert public bodies in the UK that they may have gained false assurance about the financial credibility of SinoFortone from the First Minister’s signature on the memorandum of understanding one year ago, and further calls for the working practices of the department and the sign-off protocols of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work to be revised to make sure that basic checks on the human rights record and financial underpinning of potential investors are made at an earlier stage.15:59
I would like to try, if I can, to do two things—first, to ensure that Parliament has clear facts on the status of the memorandum of understanding and what has happened since, and secondly to set out lessons that we have learned from the experience and how we are taking those forward.
Willie Rennie mentioned two different things. First, he said that it was a deal and then he said that it was an agreement. It is quite clearly a memorandum of understanding, which was based on the fact that we wanted to have further discussions. I would like to make it clear to Parliament that this Government takes full responsibility for the handling of the MOU and for the issues that have arisen from it. I regret that some of those issues have arisen, and I will seek to address that as I speak.
Given the concerns that have been raised, I want to assure Parliament that no financial commitment was made at any point on behalf of the Scottish Government and that none has been made since the signing of the MOU. Similarly, there have been no legal or contractual agreements with either of the companies that are named in the MOU. Finally, we have had no engagement with either company since September 2016. If earlier discussions had at any point resulted in specific investment proposals, of course we would have undertaken full due diligence at that point, as we do with all investment proposals.
Willie Rennie mentioned Amnesty International and the report. That has been fully investigated, and while it made no reference to and did not relate to China Railway No 3 Engineering Group but to its parent company, we agree that that information should have been known to us prior to our agreeing to sign the MOU. The lessons that we will learn from this situation are important ones.
In particular, I reinforce our commitment to human rights, which our amendment makes clear. I think and would hope that this is central to the points that Willie Rennie has raised consistently over the past year. While we—obviously—already consider human rights issues in all our engagements with other countries, we will ensure that we do the same in our engagements with overseas businesses.
In another area where the Government has been seeking to do business, Qatar, there are well-established concerns about human rights, and particularly the slaughter—I use that word advisedly—of construction workers on the world cup projects. Throughout, however, the Government continued to try to build links with Qatar. It does not seem to have learned any lessons there either.
I reinforce the point that I have just made. We will maintain our commitment to human rights. While we already consider human rights in all our engagements with other countries—we regularly raise these issues with countries when we meet them—we will do the same in our engagements with overseas businesses, and we will sign investment agreements only where appropriate due diligence has been undertaken, including on the human rights records of the companies involved.
I know that Amnesty International has today contacted members stressing two key points in relation to this debate. The first is that countries and businesses should know that human rights abuses affect their business and their credibility, and we agree with that. The second is that the Scottish Government must ensure that thorough due diligence is done on all future business relations, including a robust human rights impact assessment. We are happy to discuss with Amnesty International, as part of our regular engagement with it and as part of the Scottish Government’s overall approach to human rights, how such assessments could work and at what point in the process of investment they should take place. We are happy to have that discussion with Amnesty International. That builds on the work that we are already doing to give effect to the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights.
We believe that those lessons are important, because attracting investment is, of course, an essential part of building a stronger economy in Scotland. We are an attractive location in terms of skills and infrastructure, and the Government and our agencies build strong working relationships with potential and existing investors. This morning, the First Minister joined professional services firm Genpact to announce that it is expanding its European operation in Glasgow, creating more than 300 new jobs over the next five years.
In recent months, we have seen welcome investment from China that has not been the subject of such intense discussion, including by Red Rock Power Ltd, which wishes to invest in renewable developments, and Skymoons Digital Entertainment, which employs 21 people in the games industry. It is also true to say that companies that are active in the North Sea are owned by parent companies from China, and have been for some years.
Earlier this month I was in Germany to build on our trading links, and next week the First Minister will undertake a series of engagements in the USA that are focused on creating jobs, opportunities and economic links for Scotland.
In discussing trade, we cannot really fail to note that this morning saw the triggering of article 50 by the United Kingdom Government.
I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for giving way. He is moving on from the substance of this debate to the wider arguments about trade and internationalisation. I think that the tone that he strikes in his speech is important for the Parliament to listen to. Can we expect to hear an acknowledgement and a sense of taking responsibility for what was not done, and an apology from the cabinet secretary?
If Patrick Harvie reads back the Official Report, he will find that I have already done the first two of those things. I will come back to the others in my closing remarks.
I was making a point about article 50; Amnesty International makes the point in its report. Brexit means that there are about to be a number of new deals that otherwise would not be required, including a number of bilateral deals. It is important that international deals are made in the coming years, and we have to be part of that process. We want to remain an open and accessible country in which to invest. We should also ensure that that investment meets the very high standards that we all expect for Scotland.
I said previously, in response to Patrick Harvie’s point, that we take responsibility for this situation—I have said that already—and that we regret some of the issues that have arisen. I will come back to the other points that Patrick Harvie has raised in my closing remarks.
I move amendment S5M-04919.2, to leave out from “notes that extensive” to end and insert:
“recognises that Scotland has a strong track record in attracting investment as evidenced by the fact that Scotland has ranked as the best place for inward investment outside London for five of the last six years; further recognises that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) was about developing a working relationship to explore potential investment and that no legal, contractual or funding obligations on behalf of the Scottish Government have been made and there has been no engagement with the company since September 2016; notes with concern the human rights record of China Railway No.3 Engineering Group’s parent company, China Railway Group; regrets that the signing of the MoU gave rise to concerns, and commits to considering and taking account of these concerns in any future such situations; agrees that the Scottish Government must always consider the human rights implications of its engagement with countries and business; believes that investment agreements should only be signed where appropriate due diligence, including on the human rights record of companies involved, has been undertaken; welcomes Scottish Government engagement with Amnesty International and other organisations on human rights ahead of international engagements, and believes that, with appropriate care, it is possible for international trade to co-exist with support for human rights around the world.”16:05
This debate about the SNP’s mismanagement of a potential £10 billion investment in the economy is one of many examples of how the Government’s incompetence has damaged the economy over the past 10 years. Just last week, the Fraser of Allander institute highlighted that since the SNP came to power Scotland’s economy has grown by an average of only 0.7 per cent a year. We heard just this morning that the SNP’s flagship infrastructure project, the Queensferry crossing, has been delayed for a second time, which is shattering once and for all any pretence of competence that the SNP Government ever claimed to have.
Will the member give way?
Perhaps I will give way later.
Chinese companies have experience of investing across the world. In progressing this potential investment in Scotland they would, quite rightly, have expected a degree of competence from the SNP Government. Instead, after a few months of dealing with the SNP, and after the series of mishaps that were highlighted by Willie Rennie, the Chinese investors decided to walk away from the deal, calling it a shambles. That is deeply regrettable.
That shambles does not just reflect badly on the SNP and the cabinet secretary; it has the potential to damage Scotland’s reputation as a place to do business. More broadly, the shambles reflects how the SNP has mismanaged Scotland over the past 10 years. First, we saw the SNP’s blatant disregard for Parliament. We heard from the First Minister that Parliament is paramount, but then the SNP failed to announce to Parliament the request for section 30 powers to hold a second independence referendum. It failed to listen when Parliament voted down the Scottish Government on five separate occasions. In this instance, it failed to inform Parliament of the signing of a £10 billion investment agreement—the single largest potential investment in Scotland’s history. Parliament found out about the Chinese agreement only from a photograph that appeared in the Chinese trade press. That is ridiculous.
The SNP tells us that Parliament is paramount, but that is the case only when that suits it politically. We have seen the SNP’s total incompetence as a Government. Before the MOU was signed, there was a failure to do the most basic due diligence on the counterparties. At that stage, the First Minister had already given what was described as “confidence” to investors that the Government was
“ready for major scale investment”,
and work had been undertaken to identify potential projects for development—all that without doing any basic checks on the counterparties whatsoever. A simple Google search would have highlighted concerns that were subsequently raised and that subsequently emerged in relation to human rights—a point that was made by Amnesty International.
After the MOU was signed, the deal was announced—in China—by way of social media and the Chinese trade press, but not in Scotland. There was no ministerial contact with the Chinese investors for three months. That left a potential £10 billion investment in the Scottish economy to drift without any follow-up. The SNP discovered that the MOU had been cancelled by the Chinese investors only when they read about it in the Sunday papers. You simply could not make it up.
This sorry saga highlights the classic response of the SNP when things go wrong: blame others. This time, however, even the SNP could not blame Brexit, Westminster or the oil price, so it found someone else to blame for the China investment shambles. It tried to blame the Opposition parties—for wrecking a deal that we did not know about, for daring to ask basic questions about a £10 billion investment when we discovered it on social media, and for demanding transparency, parliamentary accountability and competence from the SNP Government. Clearly, that is too much to ask for.
Our amendment highlights the fact that we welcome international investment into the Scottish economy, whether from investors in China, elsewhere in Asia or otherwise, provided that it is appropriate for Scotland, that it has been subjected to proper due diligence, including with respect to human rights, and that it is on terms that are in the best interests of Scotland.
Will Dean Lockhart take an intervention?
The member is moving into his final minute.
I am just about to wrap up.
In other parts of the UK, we have seen how successful investment joint ventures between Chinese companies and investors and regional administrations have benefited the economy. The recent redevelopment of Manchester airport is a good example.
We encourage the Scottish Government to enhance its working practices, so that what happened does not happen again.
The SNP often accuses us of talking down Scotland. Let me make it clear that we are not talking down Scotland: rather, we are talking down the SNP, and the SNP is not Scotland. We are talking down the SNP for the damage that it has inflicted on the Scottish economy. The most recent shambles is just one more example of its mismanagement of the Scottish economy over the past 10 years.
I move amendment S5M-04919.1, to leave out from “further notes” to end and insert:
“censures the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work for failing to exercise basic diligence initially and then subsequently criticising opposition MSPs for raising basic questions; calls on the Scottish Government to apologise; further calls for the working practices of the department and the sign-off protocols of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work to be revised to make sure that basic checks on the human rights record and financial underpinning of potential investors are made at an earlier stage; considers that investment by Chinese companies in other parts of the UK has made a significant and positive contribution to the economies and infrastructure of the regions involved, and calls on the Scottish Government to take further action to promote Scotland as a top destination for investment by global investors, including from China, with counter-parties and on terms that are in the best interests of Scotland.”16:10
This debate is a walk down memory lane. I am sure that it is not a pleasant walk for the cabinet secretary, because the story was clearly excruciating for the SNP Government at the time.
I can picture the First Minister signing a memorandum of understanding with SinoFortone and China Railway No 3 Engineering Group, on 21 March 2016. On the face of it, there was nothing unusual about that, but it was odd that the photo appeared only in the China Daily; there was nothing in the Scottish press. I confess that I would have missed it, because the China Daily is not my local paper. It was strange: a Government that issues press releases about the opening of envelopes was suddenly remarkably reticent about telling us what was going on.
The deal was reported as being worth more than £10 billion of investment in infrastructure projects in
“clean energy, transport and ... housing.”
It is always good to find out what is going on in Scotland and in the Scottish Government from our friends overseas, but that rather points to a breathtaking lack of accountability of the Scottish Government to this Parliament.
Will Jackie Baillie take an intervention?
I will, in a second.
Let me be clear: I very much welcome inward investment, which is important for growing our economy and creating jobs. We know that trade has been done with China for centuries and is nothing new. However, that does not mean that we should set aside the need to undertake due diligence of those with whom we are considering working.
There are real issues to do with the Scottish Government’s response. There were clear questions about the credibility of SinoFortone. Here is an organisation that had been set up with capital of £2. Yes—£2! The South China Morning Post, which I used to read when I lived in Hong Kong, gave me that nugget of information. The organisation does not sound like a billionaire Chinese group that would be able to invest £10 billion.
Then there was the question of all the projects that SinoFortone was undertaking in different parts of the UK. Willie Rennie mentioned some of them. There was the science park at Jesus College, Cambridge. It does not exist—it is simply not real. There was Crossrail, in London—again, that was not true—and who could forget the £700 million bid for Liverpool Football Club? That, too, was not true. Mr Zhang was a chancer who managed to fool the SNP and the First Minister. What a farce, and how embarrassing. There was no money, no backing and no credibility, but the SNP did not have a clue, because it never bothered to check. It was taken in by charm and a flashy suit. For the Scottish Government to be fooled in such a way raises pretty fundamental questions about its competence.
If that was not bad enough, we heard from the former chair of the ethics council of the Norwegian oil fund that the China Railway Group had been accused of gross corruption. Amnesty International wrote to the Scottish Government about alleged human rights violations. However, the SNP did not know about those, because it never bothered to check.
I welcome the partially apologetic tone of the SNP amendment. There is an acknowledgement, for the first time in a year, that the SNP got it wrong. To be frank, that is not enough. We need transparency and parliamentary oversight to stop such a mistake happening again. Bland assurances are simply insufficient.
The lack of transparency in the case that we are considering is truly damning. It took months before the information about the memorandum of understanding and associated emails were in the public domain. The SNP deliberately misled Parliament and the public. Do members remember that it said that Sir Brian Souter, a one-time SNP donor, was not involved in the deal? That was simply not true. It is perfectly legitimate that one of Scotland’s well-known business owners would be involved, helping to make introductions and even considering investing. What is beyond strange is that the SNP, knowing all that, flatly denied that he was involved. He was simply airbrushed from the agenda. I cannot help but wonder, was the SNP embarrassed by Sir Brian’s involvement or was it simply so arrogant that it thought that it could get away with not telling the truth?
Even more extraordinary, as the details emerged, the SNP decided, as Dean Lockhart said earlier, that it could just blame someone else. There was a surprise for us: the Government had never done anything like that before, Presiding Officer. Yes—it was the fault of the Opposition parties and it was the fault of the press. Unusually, it was not also the fault of the UK Government.
I am embarrassed that the SNP Government was taken in so easily. In terms that the Chinese will understand, I say that Scotland lost face by the Government taking the decision that it took. We need due diligence to take place in all cases, and the Scottish Parliament should have oversight. We welcome investment and we want to grow the economy, but such work needs to be open and transparent.
Would you please move the amendment?
I move amendment S5M-04919.3, to insert at end:
“; recognises that inward investment can be a beneficial part of a broad economic development and growth strategy for Scotland; acknowledges the concern about the record of the companies party to the memorandum of understanding with the Scottish Government; regrets that the Scottish Government did not fully inform the public about this deal; believes that public funds and investment agreements with companies that do not pay their workers fairly or pay their fair share of taxes are wrong, and calls on the Scottish Government to develop a transparent approach to attracting investment to Scotland, which provides added value by creating jobs.”
I think that you used the term “deliberately misled”, which comes close to using in Parliament a term that I do not approve of. I will just let you consider that.
We now move to the open debate, with speeches of a very tight four minutes.16:16
Willie Rennie has set out in detail the extent of the SNP Government’s complacency and incompetence in its dealings with the two companies that have been named. To argue, as SNP ministers and MSPs consistently have, that my party’s response is an attack on genuine efforts to secure valuable inward investment for Scotland or on legitimate trade deals with China is a complete red herring. It is typical deflection from a Government that believes that nothing is ever its fault and that someone else is always to blame.
Let us be clear that, if the Prime Minister had invited the two companies to Downing Street and signed such an agreement without having done the most basic of checks, only to discover later that the companies were linked to human rights abuses and gross corruption and that the Prime Minister was the latest useful idiot who had been drawn into a string of photo opportunities, each of which is designed to induce the next and all of which have come to nothing, the SNP and its keyboard warriors would be demanding heads on spikes. However, because this shambles was cooked up in St Andrew’s house, we were all told to simmer down. The SNP even had the audacity to denounce our criticisms as an attack on Scotland’s inward investment record—a claim that is as artificial as SinoFortone’s bona fides.
SinoFortone has registered no accounts since it was established. Its website has been taken down, and questions surround its London headquarters, which has no record of the company’s existence. It has been reported that the website is down for “updating” and that the office was apparently only a virtual one.
SinoFortone did not allow such minor setbacks to thwart its bold ambitions. What happened to those ambitions? Plans to invest £2 billion in Welsh biomass went up in smoke; the deal on power stations for prawns was fishy, at best; £100 million for a theme park in Kent is on the slide; and a science park in Cambridge was pure science fiction. The list—and puns—go on, Presiding Officer, as do SinoFortone’s antics.
The risk now is that the First Minister’s signature and photo op, which were choreographed by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, are being used to lend credibility to SinoFortone’s latest dealings. The £10 billion deal with Nicola Sturgeon has already been quoted to substantiate claims of a possible SinoFortone takeover of Liverpool Football Club. Had that materialised, I would—as a diehard Reds fanatic—have been supporting more than a simple motion of censure on the economy secretary this afternoon.
There was even talk of using UK investment to create a network of football academies across China. Perhaps that is why, in answers to questions earlier this month, Keith Brown suggested that the Scottish Government’s final contact with SinoFortone, back in September, was to help the company to arrange for an Inner Mongolian delegation to come to Scotland to learn about football development. Most jaded members of the tartan army might argue that that was questionable behaviour under the Trade Descriptions Act.
In November, the First Minister said that there were lessons to learn. Two weeks later, in response to a topical question from me, Keith Brown could not identify what those lessons were and said that all future agreements would be signed “in the normal way”. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s more candid and contrite tone in this afternoon’s debate but, to most people in Scotland, checking whether companies have connections with gross corruption and human rights abuses after inviting them to the First Minister’s residence, after putting pen to paper and after the photo op and the announcement in the Chinese press is anything but normal.
The debate has belatedly forced the economy secretary to give Parliament some of the answers that we have been desperately seeking for the best part of a year. All that we are waiting for now is an explicit apology, so I urge Parliament to back Willie Rennie’s motion.16:20
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s remarks and I am pleased to hear that lessons have been learned. I am sure that we can all agree that investment in Scotland is vital for our economy. The memorandum of understanding was about exploring possible investment, and the Scottish Government has a successful track record of attracting investment. In 2015, Scotland was second only to London in attracting investment, and that investment created more than 5,000 jobs and boosted the economy.
Serious concerns have been raised about the MOU, and I agree with Amnesty International’s conclusion that all the Scottish Government’s international relations should have a human rights component. I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary recommit to the principles of promoting and protecting human rights. That will involve keeping up ethical standards and encouraging companies and other countries to do the same.
However, it has been made absolutely clear that the Scottish Government did not enter into any legal or financial commitments with the companies concerned or reach agreement on any investment. The Government would, of course, rightly have undertaken due diligence if any projects had come from the MOU. The Government should absolutely be expected to make sure that companies with which it makes legal or financial commitments meet certain standards when it comes to human rights.
The MOU that forms the subject of the debate collapsed last November, and I agree that some worthwhile lessons need to be learned, but I might just disagree on what they are. The Liberal Democrats have suggested that basic checks on the human rights record and the financial underpinning of potential investors should be made earlier, although it is clear that due diligence would have been exercised in the case in question if things had progressed.
There is an element of hypocrisy in that approach given that, when the Liberal Democrats were in government at Westminster, they aggressively pursued business links with China and said that no subject was off limits. However, we are used to such hypocrisy from the Liberal Democrats, even on the topic of human rights.
Will the member take an intervention?
No. Unfortunately, I do not have time.
We hear one story in the Scottish Parliament and another at Westminster. We regularly hear in the chamber about the concerns that the Liberal Democrats have about mental health, yet an inquiry by the UN into the period during which they were in power in the UK found that their Government’s austerity policies amounted to a systematic violation of the rights of people with disability.
I warn the member that I will tolerate a little deviation from the subject of the debate, but not the entire deviation.
I think that this is a human rights issue. My experience of working in mental health care was that very many of the people I worked with were harmed by the UK Government’s policies when the Lib Dems were in power.
Today—the day on which Theresa May formally triggered article 50 and began the process of removing the UK from the European Union—is an historic day. Instead of point scoring, we should be thinking about what is ahead for the people of Scotland. [Interruption.] Brexit will cause a profound economic shock. In the area that I represent—the Highlands and Islands—people are feeling the impact already. We need to stand up for them.
I am sorry, but I must warn the member to keep to the topic of the debate. She has made two lengthy deviations from it.
I thought that the debate was on the economy.
We need to stand up for our agriculture.
The member should be debating the motion.
We need to stand up for our EU citizens. The uncertainty that they are facing is both a human rights issue and an economic issue. I suggest that we look to the future and choose to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Thank you. I will take no promptings from front benchers as to what my job is here, thank you very much.16:24
An event that was widely described in a country of 1.3 billion people as a “Scottish shambles” does not provide the sort of headline that anyone would desire for our country. However, thanks to the SNP Government’s incompetence, that is how the Chinese media reported the cack-handed attempt at setting up a deal with Chinese enterprises in the spring of 2016.
I make it clear that inward investment is welcome in Scotland, and we must create the climate to make Scotland an attractive place to invest in. Chinese investment is welcome and important to the UK, and the open, competitive economy that we in Britain enjoy is an attractive destination for Chinese business.
Just a few months ago, I was delighted to meet two businesspeople from Hangzhou, which is the e-commerce and logistics capital of China. They have registered a UK subsidiary in England, but they were pleased to be setting up an office in Central Scotland, which will generate jobs and investment. Before meeting them, I did what I would do before meeting a company from anywhere—I did basic background research, which is quite easy to do in these days of being able to tap things into Google. Thankfully, even Chinese news reports are in English. If the Scottish Government had done the same thing, the term “Scottish shambles” might have remained unknown to millions.
Some might speculate that the Scottish Government had indeed researched the companies that it was to do business with, which explains the attempt to keep the deal secret. One might call such an explanation rather cynical but, whatever the explanation might be, it was ironic that the deal was not revealed to the world by a Government press release, a bit of investigative journalism or even a leak. No—it was the much-maligned Chinese media that spilled the beans. We are thankful that they did so, because we can only imagine when the Government would have decided to come clean otherwise.
It certainly did not take long for it to come out that one of the companies with which the Government reached an understanding had been blacklisted by the Norwegian oil fund and had been identified by Amnesty International as being involved in human rights abuses through evicting families and stripping them of their livelihoods. Having been found out for not having done due diligence—in fact, it had not even asked the basic questions—and having been far from transparent by trying to keep the whole matter quiet, the Government resorted to type by blaming everyone but itself.
In preparation for the debate, I reread the comments that the First Minister made previously. She warned against creating
“a climate that is seen to be inhospitable to investment,”—[Official Report, 10 November 2016; c 11.]
but this shambles has been damaging to Scotland. The message that is being sent out is that the Scottish Government is open to backroom business deals, and that has embarrassed and caused concern to our friends and prospective investors from not only China but elsewhere.
I call on the cabinet secretary to change the procedures for checking background details and to ensure that due diligence is carried out early to avoid similar fiascos. Let us be honest: if every lawyer, accountant, bank and building society has to carry out such basic tasks, surely the same thing must apply to the Government, too.16:28
I nearly choked on my Coco Pops when I read recently that this Government was one of the pioneers of the global open government programme. At the heart of the issue raised in the motion is the Scottish Government’s continued efforts to maintain secrecy and avoid scrutiny. This is a Government that goes out of its way to avoid answering parliamentary questions, that repeatedly refuses freedom of information requests and which even fails to record minutes of meetings between some senior lobbyists and the First Minister. After I had read that statement, I had to check that it was not 1 April.
The Chinese agreement came to light only when the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was quoted on one of the companies’ websites as welcoming the deal, even though her Government had failed to make any statement or even bring out a press release on the matter. The First Minister is not usually so reticent in her media appearances. The level of secrecy that surrounded this agreement from the day Ms Sturgeon signed the controversial memorandum of understanding to the deal’s demise is not what anyone would expect from such a global pioneer of open government.
It is important to be reminded of the apparent purpose of the Parliament. The Parliament’s website states:
“The Parliament exists to define, debate, decide and legislate on issues of importance to the people of Scotland. In doing so, it holds the Scottish Government to account and is answerable to the people of Scotland.”
Transparency and accountability were supposed to be designed into the fabric of the Scottish Parliament building and the DNA of its proceedings, but the Government shies away from robust challenge and questioning time after time. Members should not, of course, expect any internal scrutiny of ministers by their back benchers—Maree Todd’s speech spectacularly exemplified that.
Areas for potential Chinese investment included affordable housing, energy, industry, business parks, transport and something called community—whatever that means. There are many parallels with the Government’s courting of the Qatar Government. Alex Salmond, former First Minister, along with the current transport secretary went around the Gulf with some questionable individuals, including the Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames, trying to flog infrastructure opportunities to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund and boasting of an expected return of 8 per cent. That was at the same time as construction workers—many of whom were poor migrant labourers—were being slaughtered at an appalling rate building world cup venues. We all remember the inaugural Scotland versus Qatar football match, of course. That will not be held again. It seems that, like the word “generation”, the word “inaugural” is taking on a new and foreshortened meaning.
The Chinese deal is not a one-off. Given the dual uncertainty of Brexit and another independence referendum, is it any surprise that the Government needs to scour the globe for investment from often questionable regimes? Did the SNP decide to hold its nose or turn a blind eye to human rights or other abuses in courting businesses and organisations that have been shunned by other countries? Was that genuine or chosen ignorance, incompetence or naivety? Whichever it was, it was not good enough.
It is not that we do not have the personnel. We now have three ministers with external affairs portfolio responsibilities, and it looks like only Mike Russell is doing any work. Why can we not get one of them doing something on such issues?
Thorough due diligence must be conducted on all future business relations, and that must include a robust human rights impact assessment.
I ask the member to close.
Okay. I will finish there, Presiding Officer.
I say to anybody who is pulling faces about what is meant by deviating that they should read the amendments to which members are speaking. Mr Findlay spoke well within the amendment; that is the difference. Members should check the amendments before they complain.16:32
The Liberal Democrats’ motion raises very serious issues, and the Liberal Democrats have raised those issues consistently. Human rights cannot be an afterthought. In dealings with countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which Mr Findlay mentioned—and perhaps increasingly in the future, with the US—human rights and ethical business issues must be central to the discussion. The Government is due criticism for failing to ensure that and to check on the credibility of the company involved. An apology is due and I have not heard that in the clear terms that are required.
I am not disclosing any great secrets when I say that it is normal practice for Opposition parties and the Government to discuss in advance the wording of motions and amendments if they are seeking to build a majority. That is not only healthy in a period of minority government, it is absolutely necessary. The Lib Dems did not make the effort to do that. They have repeatedly raised serious points on the issue and highlighted failures in Government action that are not acceptable and must not be repeated. Today, however, they are taking that further, and they are beginning to risk appearing more interested in claiming a ministerial scalp than in changing Government practice. I note that they did not approach the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, either, to ask whether it would examine the issues that are within its remit.
The timing also seems odd. I do not see a clear rationale for taking the one-year anniversary as an opportunity to censure the minister.
Will the member give way?
I am afraid that I do not have enough time in my four minutes.
The Government discussed with us what its amendment should say. We proposed a much clearer way of allowing the Government to take responsibility, but it chose not to take on board our suggestions and I regret that. Its amendment also begins with a rather offensive tone, setting out the case for international investment and its track record on seeking it. That is simply not the issue for debate today.
Keith Brown said that the Government takes responsibility. I think that we need to hear something clearer in his closing remarks, and I think that an apology is required. I ask him to reflect on the approach that was taken by Nicola Sturgeon when, as Deputy First Minister, she came to the chamber in 2010 to make an apology for an error of judgment. She did it simply and sincerely. Her apology was widely accepted by all sides and I think that she gained credibility by doing that.
The Greens will oppose the Conservative amendment, which, quite bizarrely, removes the criticism of the companies but leaves the criticism of the cabinet secretary. Either criticism of both is justified or criticism of neither is justified.
We will support the Labour amendment. Although we have one or two reservations about wording, there is far more in it to welcome than to criticise.
Personally, I am minded to abstain on the Government amendment and the motion if we hear a clear, simple and direct apology from the cabinet secretary in his closing remarks. I am not willing to instruct my colleagues on how they should vote. I think that the motion has been brought to us in the sense of a disciplinary decision for Parliament, and I think that each member should make their own decision on the basis of the facts and arguments that have been put forward.
If the censure motion passes, I will regard that as a light rap on the knuckles. It has no status in our standing orders. I have disagreed with Keith Brown on a range of issues and, no doubt, I will continue to do so in the future. However, I want to be clear about the fact that I do not see this in any way as a resignation issue. If the Liberal Democrats or anybody else take the issue to the next stage and bring a motion of no confidence, on the facts as they stand I would certainly vote against it.
I also ask all members who back the Liberal Democrat position and all those who will back the Government to reflect on the criticisms that are due of both positions and on the words of Nicola Sturgeon when she apologised for her lapse of judgment. I want members to reflect on the need for our political culture to give space for such apologies and to accept them in good faith. I hope that Keith Brown takes that approach in his closing speech.16:37
Like others, I found it a little surprising that, of all the angles that we could have examined the economy from, the Liberal Democrats have chosen this one. However, I am happy to take part in the debate.
Just as I might disagree with many individuals on many issues, many of us would disagree with China on a range of matters, in particular its record on human rights, including those of its Christian and Muslim minorities, its approach to Falun Gong, and the situation with regard to organ harvesting. All that has left a lot to be desired.
Again on a personal level, my starting point would be that I am willing to talk to almost anyone. As we get to know people better, we form a judgment about them and can decide whether we want a longer-term friendship with them. It is the same with nations and organisations. We might know certain negative factors about a certain state or business but, until we speak to them, get to know them a bit and do a bit of digging, it is difficult to form a proper judgment.
We have had a short briefing from Amnesty International, and I very much agree with it. The key points are that we should do due diligence on all business relations, and include human rights in that; and that Chinese companies and authorities must be made aware that human rights abuses will affect their business and credibility.
For me, the question concerns the stage at which we undertake the due diligence process. Should we do that before we even talk to someone initially or before we go ahead and sign a deal? I suggest that—with regard to people, organisations and countries—it should normally be at the latter stage. By all means let us talk to people, share our views and concerns and consider whether we have much in common, but let us also be careful who we sign legally binding deals with.
John Mason says that we should do due diligence before signing a deal. Does the signing of a memorandum of understanding represent a deal?
That is exactly the point on which I was going to intervene on Jackie Baillie, but she did not have time to take my point.
I will look at what an MOU is. I did not do a huge amount of research, but Wikipedia uses words such as
“indicating an intended common line of action ... often used in cases where parties ... do not imply a legal commitment”
which seems to be key. When we look at this MOU—all three pages of it—we can see how very vague the whole thing is.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will quote this first, and then we will see whether we have time. It says:
“This MOU is intended as a statement of intent and a platform to share confidential information, not a binding legal agreement.”
Again, it says:
“Nothing under this MOU shall be taken to represent a commitment of funds on the part of either party”.
Will the member take an intervention?
If it is very quick.
Even the minister agrees that the Government made a mistake. Is Mr Mason seriously suggesting that the Government should not have done due diligence before signing the MOU?
There are lessons to learn. I am happy that the Government has said that and will continue to do so. My main argument here is that someone has to judge at what stage they will do a really thorough investigation. If a company is taking over another company, they have initial chats and then they go away and look at the detail.
I am clearly going to run out of time.
Pension funds are mentioned in the motion. I used to be on a committee that headed up the Strathclyde Pension Fund. The question is whether you just do not invest in companies that are dodgy or whether you engage with those companies and try to get them to behave a bit better. We took the latter course. There are a lot of dodgy companies out there—from Russia, the United States, Qatar and other places. We must learn from experience, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We live in a pretty unpleasant world, so let us be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.
Thank you very much, Mr Mason, for keeping to time.
We now move to winding-up speeches. I call Richard Leonard to close for the Labour Party. You have four minutes, please, Mr Leonard.16:41
This is an important debate for this Parliament, but it will also be an important vote for this Parliament. We are grateful to Willie Rennie and the Liberal Democrats for lodging it, because the memorandum of understanding containing the signature of Sir Richard Heygate, Dr Peter Zhang and the First Minister of Scotland is not merely a matter of good or bad business; it is one of good or bad government.
As others have said in the debate, the question is one of transparency and competence, but the issue is about so much more than that: it is about the power of this Parliament and our ability to exercise control over the executive. What it demonstrates is an executive that is both arrogant with power and stricken with moral cowardice. It is a Scottish Government that is prepared to ride roughshod over parliamentary consent. Worse than that, it is one that is prepared to go behind the backs of the people and to appear to mislead them with further cover-up. That represents an abuse of privilege and is an example of power without responsibility—a telling reminder that the whole point of democracy is to hold that kind of misuse of power to account.
As we have heard in the debate this afternoon, the people of Scotland and their Parliament were told that Sir Brian Souter, a knight bachelor of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and, over the years, a substantial financial backer of the party of Government, was not involved in the Chinese deal. Then it was admitted that he was involved. A press release was drafted and then blocked by the office of the First Minister. We only found out about the memorandum of understanding itself when reference to it was published—as Jackie Baillie said—in the English-language newspaper China Daily. Of course, it is now a matter of public record that Sir Brian Souter was involved. He was even quoted on the SinoFortone website as saying:
“It is a very positive step for Scotland to attract investment of this nature.”
So the question for the Scottish Government is: how come Sir Brian Souter knew about the secret deal but the rest of us did not?
The lure of private profit, private financial speculation and private profiteering from the building of affordable homes, from public transport and from public energy supplies sounds wrong and feels wrong—and it is wrong. We do not want a country that is simply open for business and not open for democracy. We do not want corridors of power that are closed to the working women and men of this country but open to baronets and tycoons.
I do not say this to the cabinet secretary—who I hope is listening—lightly. When he goes to Ineos in Grangemouth tomorrow morning, I hope that he will not be briefing Jim Ratcliffe or his associates before he briefs this Parliament tomorrow afternoon about the contents of the ministerial statement on unconventional oil and gas. I hope, too, that he will express the concerns that others have expressed about BP’s sale of the Forties pipeline system—which is an essential artery in our infrastructure—to Ineos in the next few days. He should take a strategic interest in, and oppose, that sale, which brings us back to the issues that lie at the heart of the debate. As with the Chinese deal, the problem is that there is too little transparency, too little accountability, too little scrutiny, and too little moral courage.
Let the lessons be learned from the sorry episode. Let us have inward investment deals, but let them be ethical. Let us reassert the principle of democracy not only in our political realm, but in our economic realm too.16:45
I thank Willie Rennie for bringing the debate to the chamber. It has been an interesting afternoon, and I have enjoyed listening to the points that have been raised. The debate has reminded me of the classic movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. In fact, that sums up the whole issue, and I will examine each of those headings in a moment.
First, I should say that what has surprised me most is that the Chinese papers seemed to know more than the Parliament did about what was going on with the deal. The involvement of Brian Souter and the Royal Bank of Scotland was kept fairly secret and under the table.
I turn now to the headings that I mentioned and discussion of whether the deal was, in fact, no more than a spaghetti western. I think that everyone welcomes the investment in Scotland—memoranda of understanding with companies can be good and should be welcomed. At that stage, it proved that Scotland is open for investment, and I hope that that will remain the case. As we have heard, China is investing elsewhere in the UK.
It is good that the Government has finally come clean, but it is sad that it has done so only today. A good aspect of the debate is that Keith Brown has finally said that, in the future, as a result of what happened with the deal, the Government will consider human rights. Another good aspect is that the Parliament is holding the Government to account.
I turn now to what is bad, starting with the total lack of transparency. Full details of all the information in the deal are still hidden. I will not go as far as Willie Rennie and say that we were duped, but there has been some wrong information given, and smoke and mirrors have played a part. It is bad that there was no disclosure to the Parliament, and it is outrageous that the Parliament should find out about the deal only by reading a Chinese trade paper. I give all credit to Jackie Baillie for being able to do that, because it is beyond my ability. Parliament should be kept informed.
The SNP’s incompetence is also bad. If the deal was so good, how come the Government ditched the Chinese in May and has had no contact with them since August? That is no way to manage an economic deal. Surely the Government could have pulled out the stops if the deal was worth so much and made contact with the Chinese. The SNP’s policy is to double the number of Chinese investors in Scotland from 2011-12 levels. We have not seen anything of that, which is also bad.
I will go back to some of the bad aspects that members highlighted in the debate. Liam McArthur said that the Government was complacent. Jackie Baillie said that the situation was a walk down memory lane that brought back painful and powerful memories for Keith Brown. Dean Lockhart accused the SNP of being incompetent on the economy. Maree Todd usefully intervened to ask about article 50—I am not sure what that has to do with China, but there we go. Alison Harris mentioned that the deal was not transparent. Neil Findlay highlighted the fact that there was no accountability. Patrick Harvie said that there was a lack of ethics in the deal, and John Mason clarified that it was not a deal but a memorandum of understanding.
The ugly side of the matter is that there has been no diligence. The SNP has run away from the deal, saying, “It wasn’t me—it was everyone else in the Parliament who questioned the deal.”
I will sum up by saying—
You have 10 seconds.
The situation is a Scottish shambles, engineered by the SNP. By definition, as a result of the offences that I have described, the deal fits the mould of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Unfortunately, however, the bad and the ugly outweigh the good.
I call Keith Brown to sum up for the Government.16:49
I begin by stating again the Government’s absolute commitment to promoting and supporting human rights. We fully support the European Convention on Human Rights, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the human rights safeguards contained in European Union law, and we want those rights to continue. Along with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and other partners, we are committed to developing a co-ordinated plan of action in Scotland to give effect to the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights.
Our approach to trade and investment aims to promote and support those rights both here in Scotland—in terms of fair wages, union recognition and corporate responsibility—and internationally. It should come as no surprise to members that we share their concerns about China Railway Group, which is the parent company of around 45 subsidiaries around the world, including one of the signatories to the MOU, China Railway No 3 Engineering Group.
As we have already stated publicly, at the time the MOU was signed we were unaware of the Norwegian Government pension fund’s concerns about China Railway Group and of Amnesty International’s report on the Congo International Mining Corporation, one of its many subsidiaries. I therefore acknowledge that it is important for us to do as much as we can to check the human rights record of investors and to work with organisations such as Amnesty International to assist with that. We agree with Amnesty that all international relationships of the Scottish Government should have a human rights dimension.
I also confirm to Parliament that we recognise that it is important to undertake appropriate due diligence, although I reiterate that the MOU involved no legal, contractual or funding obligations on behalf of the Scottish Government.
A number of useful points have been made by members across the chamber during the debate. In particular, I want to pick up on what Jackie Baillie said. She asked for a parliamentary process that would be able to examine the diligence undertaken. I do not know the answer to that and I do not know what the mechanism would be, but I undertake to work with Parliament and with the Opposition parties to look at how that can be done. There are issues of commercial confidentiality, but I undertake to do that.
I also want to say, in response to Patrick Harvie, that I take full responsibility for the handling of the MOU, and I am sorry for the issues that have arisen from it. I can assure Parliament that we have learned and will learn lessons from the experience of the MOU. We will consider human rights issues in our engagement with overseas businesses and we will sign investment agreements only where appropriate due diligence, including on the human rights record of companies involved, has been undertaken.
As well as the appropriate scrutiny that today’s debate has offered, it seems that, across parties, we are agreed, as a number of members have said, that attracting investment is critical to Scotland’s economic future. In the spirit of what I said in response to Jackie Baillie, I would like to see us working across parties on that. It would be good for Scotland and good for investors. I take confidence from our strong track record in attracting such investment and from today’s welcome announcement of an example of such investment by Genpact, which is bringing 300 jobs to Glasgow.
What we are about is not investment at any price but investment that is based on consideration of human rights issues and appropriate due diligence. I would also like to say that it is important that the business community sees the Parliament coming to a consensus—that is something that businesses impress upon me regularly, as I am sure they do to Opposition spokespersons.
That is the basis of the offer that I have made to Jackie Baillie: if we can give the business community evidence of consensus and show that we are trying to take things forward in a way that both respects the Parliament’s fantastic track record on human rights and takes maximum advantage of the business and investment opportunities that are out there, we will get to the right place.
I say that in good faith, and I undertake to initiate that discussion with Opposition spokespersons across the chamber in the medium term.16:53
For the past year, we have been accused of being hypocrites, of running down Scotland, of being against investment, jobs and Scotland’s economy, of indulging in cheap point scoring, and of many, many other things. There was little point in the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work coming before the Parliament today and acting all contrite but not apologising for even one of those insults over the past year. If it was not for my party and others in the Parliament, he would not be here today to make those points. This is our debating time, not his. It has taken a year for him to express any regret, and I am grateful that, after 12 months of our seeking some form of contrite behaviour from the cabinet secretary, he has at last deigned to come before us and say that he got some things wrong and will learn lessons.
That is a good thing, although it should not have needed an Opposition debate before the cabinet secretary did that. However, I am grateful for it and I want to build a consensus on the issues. I am in favour of having foreign direct investment into our country, and I take deep offence when people say that we are against it because we have dared to ask simple questions that the cabinet secretary should have asked of these supposed investors but did not bother to.
We are not talking about a normal memorandum of understanding; it has our First Minister’s signature on it. It is not just some bog-standard timid agreement; it is bigger than that. Surely something that is to get our First Minister’s signature merits investigation and due diligence before she puts pen to paper, but that did not happen in this case. I want an absolutely cast-iron guarantee—the Government likes to give such things—that, if it is going to indulge in any discussions with foreign investors, it will do the checks before it asks the First Minister to put pen to paper.
I welcome the economy secretary’s contrite approach today. However, his adviser obviously did not write the speech by Maree Todd, because she used all the old lines that were issued in the press release earlier this week and the abuse that was thrown at my party for daring to ask questions. I was amused by Patrick Harvie’s contortions on the issue. He said that he will allow his MSPs to make up their own minds on the debate, even though his MSPs were not in the chamber to hear it, but nothing surprises me from the Greens any more. John Mason did the in-depth research of looking on Wikipedia to find out what a memorandum of understanding is, and that is perhaps the level of due diligence that the Scottish Government should have done.
We need a proper set of rules that the Scottish Government complies with and which protect this country’s reputation on foreign direct investment and as a place that is reliable to come to and where people can take our word. We also need to protect our credibility on human rights. There is no point in having all the documents and international-standard human rights concordats if we do not apply them in action, and the SNP did not impose them in this case. Scotland’s reputation on human rights has been tarnished, at home and abroad.
Let us recap some of the colossal mistakes that were made. We know from freedom of information requests that there were concerns from Government departments, which were ignored. There were warnings from Amnesty International, which were ignored. There was advice from the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, which was ignored. I am surprised by that, because the SNP loves Norway and I would have thought that it would have at least paid attention to that.
To go back just a little, Simon Hume-Kendall from the equity firm London Group LLP, which did a £250 million deal, said:
“It was all ... strange. They came with a lot of ideas and hope and promises, and they were desperate to sign an agreement. No sooner had they got the TV and the press out than they faded into the night.”
That is the kind of people who the Government made an agreement with.
Our request, which is not unreasonable, is for the Scottish Government to publish a document that sets out what it will do in the future. The economy secretary has undermined our country’s reputation. For all the strategies and plans on human rights and all the rhetoric on foreign investment, the SNP has fallen short in practice. A deal was signed with people who the SNP knew little about. One company had connections with human rights abuses and the other had no serious financial track record. What is worse is that the Scottish Government was used to build credibility in a series of public relations stunts across the country.
For a whole year, instead of confessing his mistake, the cabinet secretary deflected, blustered and blamed everyone else. Although the debate has forced him to adopt a different tone, the arguments of old have been made again today by proxy by Maree Todd. The First Minister must properly apologise for this catalogue of errors. I urge the Parliament to censure the cabinet secretary for dragging our reputation through the mud.