The Sunday Times seems to have an exclusive today, and congratulations to them on that. It’s about what I described back in April as The curious case of the trade deal in the night – China and Scotland. In the words of their journalist Michael Glackin:
Scottish ministers admitted last night that a controversial £10bn trade deal with China has collapsed after an insider told The Sunday Times the plug was pulled months ago by a Chinese consortium that described the deal as a “shambles”.
When I and many others expressed scepticism about what was called a memorandum of understanding (MOU) we were assailed with the usual ‘talking Scotland down again’ jibes, and asked ‘Don’t you want £10 billion of investment in Scotland?’
In a subsequent post, I mentioned a tweet I’d received from SNP MSP James Dornan who assured me that there was no ‘dodgy dealing’ in the Chinese MOU. Indeed, no dealing at all as it turns out.
According to The Sunday Times the Chinese pulled out of the deal, by an e-mail dated 15 August. Nearly three months ago. No announcement from the government and knowledge of it in the public domain only because of the media.
Glackin’s source for his article is quoted as saying:
… the political fallout “was very badly received in China”, where … the deal is described as “the Scottish shambles” … but denied there was an attempt to keep it secret. “It was just an unfortunate problem when the project manager was taken ill and could not handle the press release.”
I like that last bit. So many contradictions in the whole story. On the one hand it was a £10 billion deal, on the other only an MOU, albeit one with a project manager in post. News of the deal falling through comes in an e-mail and because one individual is on sick leave there’s no press release. Likely or not?
Glackin also has a great quote from Keith Brown, cabinet secretary for the economy:
We were aware SinoFortone felt they could not move ahead with investment in the climate of hostility they faced from other parties. We remain open to working together on projects in the future.
So there you have it, the problem was ‘hostility … from other parties.’
The death knell to the deal neatly confirms two persistent characteristics of the SNP in power – naivety and incompetence on the one hand and the inevitable ‘It was someone else’s fault’ when things go wrong, as they seem to increasingly.
In May this year, and under pressure from political opponents, the SNP government released (much of?) the correspondence that had preceded the MOU signing. I look forward to a second tranche updating Scotland on what happened subsequently.