I sensed it was coming.
After my post yesterday on the collapsed SNP/Chinese investment deal, a lone tweeter with an SNP twibbon told me that ‘China labelled the trade deal with Scotland shambolic because the UK govt was so hostile to it.’ That’s not what the Sunday Times articles said and after three attempts failed to get him/her to provide evidence for the claim, I gave up.
Today, of course, the troops have been out in force. Observe the three steps in the way the SNP response goes into overdrive and attempts to shift the blame for a clear case of failure.
Step 1: The Sunday Times 6 November. The Chinese companies decline to comment on what has happened, but a ‘senior insider close to the negotiations’ volunteers:
once the deal became public, questions raised by politicians and the media should have been “better handled” by the Scottish government.
Fair enough, but then a ‘spokesman’ for cabinet secretary Keith Brown is quoted. Here is the totality of what he says:
We were aware that 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.
Step 2: The Herald 7 November just after midnight. The paper places an article on its website entitled Row as SNP blames opposition for collapse of £10bn China deal. Now the anonymous spokesman’s statement has been expanded to include:
The opposition should be ashamed of themselves if their actions, in search of cheap headlines, have put up to £10bn of investment at risk.
Step 3: 7 November, later. The attack dogs, or perhaps attack pups, have been summonsed and at 12:14 Pete Wishart SNP MP tweets:
After the press and opposition combining to create a toxic political environment they try and blame the SNP.
So there you have it, an almost instantaneous nationalist re-writing of the record – from something that could have been ‘better handled’ by the government, to a climate of hostility from other parties, to an opposition that should be ashamed, to press and opposition combining to create a toxic political environment.
Consider the alternative facts (all true):
- on 21 March, the first minister signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with two Chinese companies, but uncharacteristically for a government from which news spews forth about their smallest action, there is neither media release nor statement to parliament about a deal that could result in £10 billion of investment
- it is only two weeks later, when The Scotsman publishes an article on the MOU, that the public become aware of the ‘deal’
- shortly thereafter, in response to growing criticism, the civil service (because we are now in a ‘purdah’ period before the Holyrood election) place a copy of the MOU on the government website without any added comment
- over the next short while (and recorded in The Herald article linked above) criticisms of the ethical record of one of the Chinese companies emerge from a Norwegian state agency and charities Amnesty and Transparency International (not an opposition politician or British media outlet amongst them)
- in May, and in response to all the criticism, the government release 77 pages of correspondence that preceded the signing of the MOU: potentially significant parts of it are redacted
- on 15 August, according to the Sunday Times, the government receive an e-mail from the Chinese parties saying they no longer wish to proceed with the arrangement. Again, there is no announcement from them about this, and finally
- it is only on 6 November that the public learn, thanks again to the media, that the deal is off.
I know which version of events I prefer and it gives rise to three questions.
- What activity took place between March and August in relation to the MOU? (From the Sunday Times we learnt that a government ‘project manager’ was in post so there must have been some)
- Will government release the papers they have in relation to activity arising from the MOU since the previous release in May until now? (If not, a freedom of information request should be lodged to produce them)
- What due diligence was carried out on the Chinese parties, both before the MOU was signed (the correspondence released in May doesn’t answer that question) and how was that supplemented once concerns about the ethical record of one of them was voiced?
If the subject is not raised by opposition parties at first minister’s questions on Thursday, they will have failed in their duty. It’s also not unreasonable to hope that the relevant parliamentary committee holds an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the subject.