The prominent SNP MP targeted by Chinese intelligence has launched a blistering critique of the Scottish government’s policy towards Beijing.

Chinese spies tried to hack Stewart McDonald, the party’s former defence spokesman, along with other unnamed Scottish MPs, including another SNP MP. The attack was unsuccessful as it was “intercepted”.

McDonald was previously hacked by Russian intelligence last year. He’s a fierce critic of both the Kremlin and Chinese Communist Party.

McDonald says he was targeted because China “doesn’t like what I’m talking about, especially in the context of Scotland and our economic over-dependence on China, and the need to wean ourselves off that dependence with a proper, robust, long-term strategy”.

If China invades Taiwan or launches maritime or economic blockades, the result would be “reciprocal sanctions” between China and the west, which would damage Scotland. Scottish goods like whisky and salmon would be hit.

Scotland is at risk due to over-reliance on China when it comes to “energy, exports and education”.

Scottish universities over-rely on Chinese students. The cash effectively props up universities and maintains the SNP’s free tuition policy, he says.

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“We’ve got universities where the percentage of international income from one source - China - is far too high,” McDonald explained. “In Glasgow University, it’s about 40%.”

In the event of war, McDonald said: “Imagine if suddenly all that Chinese money flowing into our universities is turned off, all those students recalled, no new students permitted to come and study. That’s a massive problem. It’s the single biggest threat to my party’s free tuition policy."

Scotland heavily depends on Chinese goods for the green transition. It’s just emerged that China’s largest wind-turbine manufacturer, Mingyang Smart Energy, intends establishing its first European base in Scotland supplying North Sea wind-farms.

McDonald called the move “incredible” and “short-termism posing as strategy”. Norway has “excluded the same company”, he said. As the EU has just launched anti-trust investigations into Chinese wind-turbine manufacturers, the move “sends all the wrong signals to our European partners”.

The Scottish government “promoted the company to the priority tier in their strategic investment model, just weeks after we learn of a Chinese hack … Talk about sending the wrong message. There’s no strategy anywhere to be found”.

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He warned Scotland not to view the Chinese threat as an issue about “faraway foreign policy. It’s domestic. It’s a threat to energy security, data security. It’s a technological threat. We must be one step ahead to protect citizens”.

McDonald claimed that Chinese consulates are used for “transnational repression” - monitoring and threatening dissidents and intimidating their families in China. 

He said “in Scotland, we’ve had Hong Kong students” protesting what’s happening in their homeland being “spied on, their photographs taken and information sent back to Chinese police. Their families are visited by police and harassed to get the student in Scotland to shut up”. 

He added: “The Edinburgh Consulate isn’t just issuing visas and passports.” McDonald knows pro-democracy campaigners in Britain who’ve been “attacked and beaten up”.

Scotland needs a policy of ‘de-risking’ when it comes to China. “The frustration is that Scotland feels it can sit this out, that it’s too difficult. There’s an element in Edinburgh where people think ‘if we do too much, it might end up causing us more trouble’.

Read More: The Big Read: China threatens Scotland and SNP are not taking the risks seriously

“Too often the Scottish government and MSPs in general don’t think in terms of national security. They think it’s for Whitehall.”

McDonald says he “hates the term ‘backdoor’, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are very much softer entry-points into Britain. China wants to create dependencies and knows [the devolved nations] are easier routes to pursue its goals”.

Chinese spies have physically targeted the British parliament. McDonald says that while he won’t go as far as “saying there’s a bunch of Chinese spies creeping around Holyrood, they will be gathering information and intelligence, and building relationships - 100%.

“China wants to create a high-level of economic dependency in Scotland in key areas of strategic interest. They know we want a green transition, that there’s lots of money in that, lots of legislative changes. The more they can latch onto that, the better for them. We need to resist that.

“I’d ask Scottish officials and government ministers: if China turned all the money off tomorrow, how would you replace it? Before we even get a de-risking strategy, we must understand where dependencies are.

“The UK government has done work on what the war in Taiwan would mean economically. The EU and US has done this. We need to do the same. We can’t sit this out.” 

In terms of the hacking attempt, the Scottish government "thought ‘this is a national security incident that will be dealt with by London, we don’t have anything to do’. 

“That’s far too hands-off for a party of government aspiring to statehood. Ministers in Edinburgh should ask themselves ‘how would other capitals deal with this?’ … It’ll keep happening, it’ll get worse, and they’ll keep laughing at us”.

Within the Scottish government “there’s definitely an element of thinking too small, that it’s too difficult, too big - largely something for the UK government. We must anchor any future strategy in acknowledging China as the single biggest economic threat to Scotland’s resilience”.

‘Small-thinking’ affects “the Scottish civil service and MSPs of all parties” as well as government. “Nobody has the drive to devise a proper framework”.

McDonald was “uncomfortable” with SNP External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson’s recent China trip. The press release announcing it made “no mention of human rights”. 

The visit centred around “greater economic integration, trade and more students - it’s the wrong direction of travel. It just speaks to there being no coherent strategy in Edinburgh, or London”.

Scotland must realise that when it comes to China’s geopolitical goals, “we’re part of it, no more than any other part of the world, but no less either”.

Chinese interference in British and Scottish elections “will happen. We can’t prevent it. What we can do is build up resilience”. Scotland needs “a national strategy countering disinformation”.

Beijing is “absolutely” exploiting Scotland and Britain’s online ‘culture wars’. “They don’t create divisions in society, they look for where we’re divided and ramp that up.”

McDonald believes “China sees Scotland as a more amenable partner for their interests” than Britain. “The complete absence of political debate about the activity of a hostile state in our public infrastructure and institutions - from renewables, critical industries and our universities - suits them”.

The Scottish government “is behind the curve. Our approach to China is out of step with the direction of travel many of our democratic and European counterparts are taking”.

Read Neil Mackay's Big Read here