A fresh smear attack against First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been launched after newspapers reported on an alleged ‘secret’ deal which may lead to billions of pounds of investment coming to Scotland.
The smear, which initially appeared in The Scotsman newspaper, centred on a memorandum of understanding between the Scottish Government, Chinese investment group SinoFortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group, the largest construction company in the world.
According to the memorandum, “…the parties will be mutually supportive of each other in working towards this purpose and seek to develop a relationship that could lead to a program of investment into Scottish priority projects and infrastructure to the value of £10Bn.”
The document also states that both parties must agree before any if its contents are released, although it allowed for the full release in the event of a Freedom of Information request being submitted.
The prospect of billions of pounds of investment coming to Scotland did not deter Unionist politicians from launching politically motivated attacks on the First Minister, with some implying inappropriate behaviour.
Speaking to The Scotsman on Saturday, Labour’s James Kelly said: “Why did they sign a secret deal and keep it from the Scottish people, and the Scottish Parliament? What was the involvement of millionaire SNP donor Brian Souter? It would be unacceptable if the SNP signed a deal to build major infrastructure projects in Scotland with Chinese steel rather than British steel at a time of crisis in the British steel industry.”
A SNP spokeswoman responded, saying: “The memorandum of understanding is not about steel, it is about exploring investment opportunities in Scotland.”
The story looked set to fade, until it was picked up by two Sunday newspapers. The Sunday Mail and the Sunday Times versions of the story both featured in a review of newspapers on BBC Radio Scotland on Sunday morning.
The broadcast appeared to prompt BBC Scotland into running the smear itself.
By lunchtime the broadcaster had published the story online and by mid-evening it was being broadcast on the flagship news programme Reporting Scotland.
The BBC’s coverage prompted another statement from Scottish Labour, with Jackie Baillie implying impropriety on the part of the First Minister, saying, “This stinks. This secret deal needs to be published now. Voters deserve the facts on deals the SNP government have signed on their behalf and it is unacceptable to refuse to tell people what is in this deal.
“It simply isn’t good enough to blame the purdah election period. The SNP signed this deal before that but kept it quiet – people deserve to know why.
“It simply isn’t acceptable that a millionaire SNP donor knows the details of this deal but the people of Scotland don’t.”
However it has emerged that, far from being secret, the agreement was actually published weeks ago by the UK HQ of one of the firms involved. In a news release, complete with pictures of the agreement being signed, SinoFortone published details of the agreement together with quotes from the First Minister. The story was published by Chinese news agency China Daily a day later, an agency UK Government officials would almost certainly have been monitoring.
The smear attempt against Nicola Sturgeon comes exactly one year after a similar media inspired attempt was made to discredit the SNP leader. On April 3rd 2015, during the UK general election, the Telegraph newspaper claimed to have obtained a leaked memo which it said showed Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to become the next Prime Minister.
The leak had come from the Scotland Office, which was headed at the time by Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael. Despite denying any knowledge of the leak, an investigation traced the source to an aide of the MP. Carmichael subsequently admitted having lied about the memo and acknowledged the claims about the First Minister were false.
The Chinese smear follows a troubled week for the SNP’s main rivals in the Holyrood election. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s campaign has been hampered with gaffes over independence and a major U-turn involving income tax.Views: 7972