Hu­man rights wor­ries cast aside as SNP begs for Qatar cash to help save ail­ing Prest­wick

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Femail - By Michael Black­ley

SNP min­is­ters have pleaded with a Mid­dle East regime which has been ac­cused of hu­man rights abuses to help save trou­bled Prest­wick­Air­port.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment urged Qatar Air­ways to set up cargo ser­vices at the loss-mak­ing, Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment-owned Ayr­shire air­port.

And Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment talks with high-rank­ing Qatar of­fi­cials have in­cluded an ‘in­vest­ment pitch’ for up to £40 bil­lion of spend­ing on re­new­able energy.

De­spite this, Ni­cola Stur­geon, re­spond­ing to a Holy­rood ques­tion about the ill-treat­ment of mi­grant work­ers build­ing sta­di­ums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, said that hu­man rights ‘must be re­spected’.

Min­utes from a meet­ing in March 2014 be­tween Alex Salmond and Ak­bar Al Baker, chief ex­ec­u­tive of sta­te­owned Qatar Air­ways, show that the for­mer First Min­is­ter ‘out­lined the op­por­tu­ni­ties Prest­wick pro­vides for cargo ser­vices’. At the Bute House meet­ing, Mr Al Baker promised to dis­cuss this with his chief cargo of­fi­cer.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment bought the air­port for £1 in Novem­ber 2013, but Prest­wick then ran up £11.6 mil­lion of losses in the 17 months to the end of March. A sep­a­rate brief­ing note pre­pared for the First Min­is­ter ahead of a meet­ing with the Qatar am­bas­sador in 2011 said there were £40 bil­lion of in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in Scot­land’s re­new­ables in­dus­try.

Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Humza Yousaf also held a se­ries of meet­ings with se­nior of­fi­cials in Qatar.

The close con­tact be­tween the SNP and the oil-rich state is in sharp con­trast to com­ments made by Miss Stur­geon. Af­ter re­ports that work­ers had died build­ing football sta­di­ums there, she told MSPs it was im­por­tant that ‘hu­man rights are up­held and re­spected in ev­ery part of the world with­out ex­cep­tion.’

Labour MSP Neil Find­lay, who ob­tained de­tails of the meet­ings through free­dom of in­for­ma­tion laws, said: ‘Min­is­ters have been traips­ing around Qatar pitch­ing for cash whilst at best pay­ing lip ser­vice to their record on hu­man rights. This re­ally looks like des­per­ate stuff and again ex­poses the SNP’s rhetoric over re­al­ity.’

A Trans­port Scot­land spokesman said that Prest­wick ‘is ex­plor­ing var­i­ous op­tions to en­sure it be­comes a suc­cess’.

TROU­BLED: De­serted check-in desks at Prest­wick, which is owned by the SNP Gov­ern­ment

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