This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

In July the House of Commons published what could well turn out to be one of its most important and far-reaching reports in some time.

The 207-page document by the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was four years in the making and took evidence in secret from leading figures in national security as well as senior officials, ministers and global experts.

MPs on the body including the two SNP representatives, Stewart Hosie and Owen Thompson, were and continue to be subject to the Official Secrets Act and as part of their investigation were given access to highly classified material.

The subject of the inquiry was 'why is China targeting the UK?'. Members of the ISC endeavoured to find out the nature and the scale of the threat from China and whether the government is doing enough to tackle the matter.

Its findings were rather alarming and critical of the Conservative government's willingness to allow economic interests to trump serious security issues. 

"The Government says its response is 'robust' and 'clear-eyed'. The external experts we spoke to were rather less complimentary.

"While we sought to examine whether the Government’s strategy for dealing with such a large adversary was up to the task, they felt very strongly that HMG did not have any strategy on China, let alone an effective one, and that it was singularly failing to deploy a ‘whole-of-government’ approach when countering the threat from China – a damning appraisal indeed," the ISC report said.

The findings of the inquiry are now being turned to again in light of the revelations this week that a parliamentary researcher was one of two men arrested on suspicion of spying for China in March. The Edinburgh-educated former Tory aide has insisted he is 'completely innocent'.

Essentially the ISC report concluded that China's national imperative is to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party remains in power for decades to come and all other ambitions are secondary to that over-riding objective.

To advance that goal the MPs' report argued that China wants to become the dominant technological and economic superpower on which other countries are reliant.

This is where its interest in the UK partly comes in. If China wants to become the world's most important superpower then it has to challenge the US for that title. It would seem the UK is something of a pawn – maybe an unwitting one – in this battle between the two giants.

"China views the UK through the optic of the struggle between the United States and China. When combined with the UK’s membership of significant international bodies, and the perception of the UK as an international opinion-former, these factors would appear to place the UK just below China’s top priority targets," found the report.

The Herald:
It described the Chinese state intelligence apparatus as "the biggest in the world", operating on a scale difficult for the outsider to grasp.

Chillingly, it added it "targets the UK and its overseas interests prolifically and aggressively".

The report said that regarding espionage, "China’s human intelligence collection is prolific", using a vast network of individuals embedded in local society to access individuals of interest – often identified through social media.

"It is also clear from the evidence we have seen that China routinely targets current and former UK civil servants," it noted.

It cited a wide variety of activities China was involved in in the UK as a means of gaining greater influence over British society and its economy.

It raised considerable concerns about China's involvement in infrastructure plans such as the Hinkley nuclear power plant and its desire for Huawei, one of its main telecoms firms, to supply kit for the UK's 5G network (the government decided to ban Huawei's involvement following an outcry from MPs).

MPs on the committee also feared the influence China was gaining in British universities.

"China exerts influence over institutions, individual UK academics and Chinese students in order to control the narrative of debate about China – including through the use of Confucius Institutes in the UK – and it directs or steals UK academic research to obtain Intellectual Property in order to build, or short-cut to, Chinese expertise", the ISC report said.

Read more:

UnspunAnalysis: Could Fergus Ewing claim the rebel throne?

While I could not find any explicit mention of Scotland in the ISC report, experts believe it is certainly the case that China's interest in the UK extends to Scotland.

Professor Peter Jackson, chair in global security at the University of Glasgow, told The Herald that there are a number of ways China is monitoring events north of the Border.

"Scottish universities are major research hubs. In that sense they are certainly interested," he said.

"But they will also be keen to know what the state of play is in Scotland on whether there will be a referendum or not."

He added: "The issue of Scottish independence has ramifications on Britain's role in the world and of course the UK's nuclear deterrent is in Scotland. So knowing the state of play of politics in Scotland is important to China."

Should readers think the main concerns raised by the Commons committee rather remote and unconnected from the everyday struggles of most voters, the report contained a stern warning.

It argued that China was operating to advance its own interests, values and narrative "at the expense" of those of the West.

Essentially this raises the spectre that while China is pursuing actions to benefit itself (which many may find reasonable enough), it is also undermining the influence and prosperity of the West.

MPs have issued a clear warning that they believe China is not only trying to make itself wealthier but also make Western nations such as the UK less prosperous and the people who live here poorer.

And to me, that is something we should all be concerned about.

...enjoyed the article? Sign up for free to the Unspun newsletter and receive it directly to your inbox every weekday night at 7pmClick here 👈