An investment of a reported £10 billion is not small potatoes. The public has a right to know what has been given in return.
For decades no effort has been spared in attracting foreign direct investment to Scotland.
It brings in substantial capital investment. It creates employment. It enhances Scotland’s export potential. And it raises the profile of Scotland in markets around the world.
One of the biggest global investors today is China. Whether in resource extraction, engineering, construction, transport and power station projects or hotels and leisure complexes, Chinese companies have been increasingly active global investors.
Senior Scottish government ministers have visited China to promote Scotland as an attractive investment destination. So the news that the Scottish government has signed an investment deal with a Chinese consortium said to be worth up to £10 billion should have been immediately declared.
So it is odd that the signing of this deal on 21 March by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and representatives of SinoFortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group had been a well-kept secret till now.
No press conference was held. No announcement made on the Scottish government website. Details of the “memorandum of understanding” only came to light on the website of the SinoFortone Group.
MSPs were not told about the deal before the Scottish Parliament was dissolved ahead of the election on 5 May. They have called for full details to be published. That, in the circumstances, was a wholly reasonable request to which the administration has now responded. Any such agreement, particularly one of this size and with China as the potential investor, is a matter of public interest.
Sinofortone says the deal paved the way for “significant investment” in areas such as clean energy, transport and affordable housing. But the Scottish government says no investment has been confirmed and that any investment in any specific project “would of course be confirmed publicly in the normal way.”
“The normal way”? Signing an agreement over potential investment ranging up to £10 billion is hardly “normal”. It would be helpful to know which particular projects the Chinese consortium is looking at, the local partners with which they have had discussions and the agencies that have been supplying information, analysis and advisory support.
The declaration by the administration yesterday that new innovation collaborations between Scotland and China “can deliver a boost in business growth for both countries and deliver benefits to Scotland as a whole” is not to be doubted. But parliament has a right to know the background to this agreement and at a time when it was able to scrutinise it. What is it that the administration has signed up to? And what may have been given in return for this investment?
How ironic that it is the Chinese government which is normally on the receiving end of Western lectures on transparency and disclosure. The secrecy with which the Scottish administration surrounded the memorandum is difficult to explain, still less to justify and it has now been obliged to retreat.
Overheard in the pews
The latest figures which show a sharp drop in the number of churchgoers in Scotland will no doubt be of concern to the Kirk.
But what can be done to help reverse the trend and send people back into the pews on a Sunday?
One minister, Rev Tony Stephen of Banchory West Church, has led the way by urging his flock to keep their phones on during Sunday service so they can text him questions during his sermons.
Surely it is only a short step now before congregations are invited to tweet their thoughts on the minister’s performance.
How would that go?
@frontpew: Here he goes. Minister just cleared his throat at 11.24. I give him 18 minutes. He’s straight in with a joke about
@backrow: What was the joke? Couldn’t hear.
@repentatleisure: Joke over. Text is from the gospel of John chapter something or other. He’s on about the meaning of being born again or “born from above”
@loopylaura: Awesome! Did you catch his sandals? They’re from Primark.
@frontpew: This is a cool dude Rev. Now he’s quoting lyrics from The Grateful Dead.
@loopylaura: Hasn’t caught up with Adele’s new album, then?
@backrow: Don’t tell me he’s going to start strumming a guitar.
@frontrow: Minister now hitting stride. It’s 11.38 already and I reckon he’s up for another 20 minutes.
@repentatleisure: Oh Lordy! Any chance of an interval?
Unlikely perhaps, but if numbers keep falling, who would rule it out?