Leader comment: Holyrood-China deal needs to be fleshed out

The Scottish Government kept the deal below the radar in Scotland. Picture: PAThe Scottish Government kept the deal below the radar in Scotland. Picture: PA
The Scottish Government kept the deal below the radar in Scotland. Picture: PA
Memorandum of Understanding is worth £10bn and the Scottish Government has a responsibility to be as forthright as possible

It would be fair to say there has been a degree of secrecy surrounding the Scottish Government’s recent agreement with Chinese companies and that has undoubtedly raised suspicion.

News that the Norwegian government had doubts over “gross corruption” at the China Railway Group – a parent company of the organisation with which Nicola Sturgeon signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) over a £10 billion deal – has ruffled feathers everywhere.

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The memorandum was signed with some fanfare at Bute House and reported in the Chinese media but was kept below the radar in Scotland.

Further revelations revealed by The Scotsman today show that the allegations sparked a human rights organisation to try to block a hydropower project in Guyana over fears of corruption.

And Ms Sturgeon has come under fire again for failing to be upfront about the deal. In an interview yesterday in Kirkwall, the First Minister dodged questions over the issue, insisting only that there has been no concrete deal agreed: and refused to address demands as to whether the government was aware of the corruption allegations surrounding the Chinese company.

To give her her dues, until yesterday, Sturgeon has, once questioned over the deal, done the right thing and made details of the agreement public. She has also stressed repeatedly that a MoU is not an actual deal and any negotiations are at a very early stage.

This is true, but the fact the leader of Scotland has met with representatives means it has been taken on beyond a very preliminary stage.

Of course, we do do business with China and there are some very attractive economic opportunities there.

There are, as has been well documented before, some human rights issues, but the best way to deal with that is to engage in a good relationship with China, rather than try to dictate how they should operate from a frosty distance.

However, as well as the human rights issues, there are corruption issues.

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China is a strange, hybrid state between capitalism and communism, whihc can make it confusing to deal with. And this particular deal is creating more questions than there are answers.

Yet, if they signed an MoU, they should surely have done some due diligence on the company first. Perhaps they did and were fully aware of the controversy surrounding the Chinese firm. But it is just not good enough that we do not know.

The Government did well when it responded to questions over the secrecy of the deal and it needs to continue in this vein and be as open and forthright as possible about what this company is and what they knew about it.

Now people want to know more and it is the Scottish Government’s responsibilty to provide this information. The reaction to the Panama papers makes it clear that people want transparency in how their governments act.

Where will our pensions come from

What is clear from recent reports about pension final salary schemes and defined benefit schemes is that is that there is an awful lot of money that needs to be found to meet the pensions black hole which we now face.

Where that money comes from and how people will pay for their retirement is one of the biggest questions facing us today.

In addition to vast gaps in private pensions, it is believed that the majority of people reaching pensionable age today will not get the full state pension due to gaps in National Insurance contributions.

However, a new state scheme, to go live from today, which aims to simplify the pension structure, is likely to be more generous to people who have been self-employed or have taken time out of work to care for children and other family members.

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It will also give people a clear idea of what they can expect to have in their retirement. It is a great thing that tools will become available which will allow people to start thinking about how much money they are going to need when they finish work.

There were fears when the Government changed the rules to allow pensioners to take some cash out of their pension pots that they would rush to buy Lamborghinis. In reality, most people are fairly sensible.

However, the more information people can have about what they should be saving and when, the better.

The luxury afforded by previous generations which have benefited from good, final salary pension schemes, will not exist for the retirees of the future. The trick is to get younger people to engage in pensions as an issue and start to think about what they need to do.