THE revelation that Korean firm Doosan Power Systems told the Scottish Government in December that it was going to pull out of a £170 million offshore research project – and yet the Nationalist administration continued to laud the company’s role in the “renewables revolution” north of the Border – leaves Alex Salmond with some questions to answer.
Mr Salmond is a firm believer in renewable energy and has devoted much of his time building the case that this vibrant new industry of the future will lay the foundation for the economic prosperity of an independent Scotland.
We do not question the First Minister’s sincerity in this, nor his passion for the cause which is as fervent as his belief in independence.
However, as he must do in making the case for ending the Union, it is incumbent on Mr Salmond and his colleagues to tell voters the facts about the case for renewable energy and, most importantly, its economic impact, to allow them to form a reasoned judgment on his claim that Scotland can become the “Saudi Arabia” of renewables.
In the case of the Doosan project, Mr Salmond’s government has, at best, avoided admitting an uncomfortable truth which would have dented its extravagant claims over the benefits of the renewables industry.
Having been told the project was to be shelved last year, it continued to refer to it in budget documents debated early this year. Doosan was even mentioned positively, though elliptically, as part of finance secretary John Swinney’s trip to the Far East this week.
Under pressure yesterday, the First Minister claimed that it was not the government’s business to make companies’ announcements. That is true, but it is equally incumbent upon governments not to leave voters with false impressions.
Were this a one-off incident, it might be possible to forgive the First Minister and his government, but this is part of a worrying pattern which appears to be emerging. Recently, Mr Salmond had to apologise to parliament after his spin-doctor put together a letter purporting to be from referendum expert Matt Qvortrup supporting the SNP’s policies, when the opposite was the case. More recently, an advertisement claiming that the Chinese government had gifted two pandas to Edinburgh Zoo was banned because, in reality, millions were to be paid for the animals stay here.
A slip about pandas might be forgivable, a mix-up over Prof Qvortrup might be put down to the heat of the moment. But when put together with this latest incident, the danger is that the SNP administration gives the impression it is not as open and honest as it should be. The Doosan saga is not a smoking gun which proves the SNP has deceived or lied, but it leaves Mr Salmond’s administration open to the charge of dissembling.
Lord Jones loses the plot
Lord Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI, has never been one to hide his outspoken pro-business light under a bushel. In a speech last night in the North-east, he was on his usual outspoken form, be- rating television for its portrayal of business people.
According to the peer, we have “phenomenal achievements” in the world of business, we do not celebrate what we are good at and we have ceased to believe in ourselves. In this country, he opined, business gets on the agenda through “gloom or facile entertainment”.
To support his argument, he claimed business is traduced in Coronation Street, EastEnders and even, shockingly, The Archers. Crooks in a soap operas are always businessmen, apparently. And he lambasted Lord Sugar, ridiculing his Rolls-Royce trips to fire people, saying no business in Britain was run like that.
So far, so provocative. The question is whether Lord Jones is right. In saying there can be a tendency to look on the negative side, he may have a point. Scots with the “we’re all doomed” mentality can sometimes – though not always – fall prey to glass-half-empty syndrome. However, on his point about portrayal of business people in soap operas, we beg to differ. Lord Jones is confusing the need for decent entertainment plots with reality. He has, in fact, lost the plot on this.
There have always been, and are, numerous examples on television of the promotion of enterprise and entrepreneurship. From the late Sir John Harvey-Jones’ programmes, where he helped struggling companies, through to Dragon’s Den and even in Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice, any negatives in sterotyping are more than outweighed by business positives.