Sometimes things float to the surface when you least want them to. For the Scottish Government coming up to an election is one of those times.

The Scottish Government has a miserable record when it comes to business.

Failure to deliver their manifesto promise of a reduction in air passenger duty.

Tens of millions of pounds lost in absurdly over complex ferries, an airport nobody wants to use, fabrication yards without orders – all accompanied by mass resignations of – absolutely nobody in the Scottish Government.

Send an unwise text and your ministerial career ends that morning. Display serial incompetence in industrial policy and waste many millions of taxpayers’ money – sail on.

The mess which has now surfaced is the Government’s foolish but probably least understood industrial policy misadventure.

If you want to have money thrown at you by the Scottish Government just say “Highlands”, “jobs” and “lots of”. Up to a point any Scottish Government should try to help businesses in more economically challenged areas where the key problem is a lack of decent sustainable jobs. This time, however, they have been reckless and naive with our money.

The most transparent Government ever (I’m sure Alex Salmond would agree) has already been less than forthcoming about its involvement in the purchase by Sanjeev Gupta’s businesses of two steel mills in the Central Belt . These assets were purchased by the Scottish Government and then sold on to Mr Gupta’s company the next day. Why? What did the Government do in its day of ownership? What liabilities did it take on that the poor old taxpayer got left in the dark about?

This was small compared to the Scottish Government’s involvement in Mr Gupta’s plans for the hydro-electric power plant and aluminium smelter near Fort William These assets were being sold by Rio Tinto, a vast international corporation not noted for its stupidity or lack of cash.

In steps the bold Mr Gupta with a plan for a new factory to make aluminium car wheels – did nobody in the Scottish Government wonder about the credibility of this?

Just one problem – a slight lack of cash to invest in the rather tired assets being purchased and build the new plant. This is where the magic comes in. The Scottish Government commits itself to underwrite the purchase of electricity from the hydro-electric plant for 25 years. The gross liability is over half a billion pounds – not that the taxpayer gets to see the full details – commercially confidential we are told – embarrassing more like.

But, hey presto, no upfront cash cost and just a few signatures turn a dud project into gold.

The Gupta companies and their financiers now have a Government guarantee of the revenue stream for the hydro-electric plant which enables them to package up a debt issue to investors and raise hundreds of millions of pounds. The car wheel factory remains unbuilt.

A contingent liability. The Scottish Government clearly thought – or at least hoped – it would stay that way but such things have a nasty habit of becoming real cash liabilities just when you least want them to. The last Audit Scotland report identified the beginnings of the problem and it will be a miracle if the likely cost to taxpayers has not increased dramatically when the next report is done.

The problem with the Scottish Government is that they are clueless when it comes to business. Has any minister actually ever operated at a senior level in the private sector – I rack my brains and think of none. They are simply not competent to trust with our money.

Guy Stenhouse is a Scottish financial sector veteran who wrote formerly as Pinstripe