THE Scottish Government was criticised last night for its links to the rulers of Qatar after documents revealed that Alex Salmond repeatedly lobbied the unelected ministers of the Gulf state during his time as First Minister.
The documents, released under Freedom of Information laws, showed that Salmond invited Qatar officials, military leaders and businessmen from the country to events at Edinburgh Castle, the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in a bid to boost trade links with the regime, which has come under fire for allegations of human rights abuses in the run-up to the 2022 football World Cup.
Salmond, now the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, aided by Scotland’s international development minister Humza Yousaf, lobbied Qatar’s authorities with suggestions of meetings at events including the Qatar tennis open and encouraged trade visits to the country.
Last night Labour accused Salmond of “schmoozing” representatives of the Qatari government, which is an absolute monarchy, and of ignoring “disturbing” allegations about human rights abuses in the state where it is claimed workers have died building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Documents from the office of SNP minister Yousaf showed that the Scottish Government was “keen to pursue opportunities around the World Cup 2022”, adding that Scotland had “valuable experience to offer” to help the Gulf state.
Yousaf has already been criticised for failing to reveal his activities on a three-day trip to Qatar after his ministerial diary omitted details of his engagements in the country in May 2013, which the government billed as “strengthening Scotland’s economic, diplomatic and cultural links”.
However, dozens of newly released pages from Salmond and Yousaf’s government offices setting out “Scotland’s investment pitch” to Qatar fail to mention human rights issues in the country.
Human right organisations including Amnesty International have expressed concerns about alleged abuses of workers, such as the confiscation of passports and harmful working and housing conditions.
In a civil service briefing note for Salmond, drafted in March 2014, a passage titled “labour market concerns” refers to a “significant reliance on manual labour from poorer countries” in Qatar but fail to make any mention of their working conditions.
An email from Salmond’s office, dated March 2014, sent to the chief executive of Qatar Airways included an instruction to the First Minister’s staff to find out about “castle availability” to host airline bosses and Qatari representatives at an Edinburgh Castle reception. The same email stated that Salmond thought it would be “good to coincide a trade delegation with the Qatar Open”.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay, whose office made the FoI request, said the findings raised concerns about Alex Salmond’s ability to defend human rights in his role as the foreign affairs spokesman.He said: “These revelations are remarkable. What they show is Alex Salmond and Humza Yousaf going all out to court and lobby the Qatari regime. All of this taxpayers-funded hospitality was aimed at schmoozing the representatives of a country where hundreds of poor migrant workers have been killed building the venues for the 2022 World Cup.
“But what is more disturbing is that there is not a single sentence in any of these documents that refers to concerns raised by the Scottish government about human rights abuses in Qatar.”
Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has taken every opportunity to engage constructively with Qatar on human rights, and to share good practice. Humza Yousaf, minister for Europe and international development, has raised the issue of migrants’ rights a number of times – including directly with the Qatari Ambassador to the UK, and in a public speech in the UAE. In addition, Mr Yousaf recently spoke with the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy to raise Scotland’s concerns around human rights in relation to their World Cup preparations.”