On Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon was asked a good question by Malcolm Chisholm, Labour MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith.

He wanted to know "whether the Scottish government will speak out about human rights abuses in Qatar prior to the Scotland v Qatar football match on 5 June".

The First Minister gave a decent answer. "Scotland," she declared, "has a very strong commitment to securing democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights around the world. Scottish ministers share the concern of many about the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, and we condemn human rights abuses in the strongest possible terms".

Sturgeon went on to say that offers had been made to "engage" with Qatar over human rights, to "share Scotland's experiences", particularly after the Commonwealth Games, and "help embed human rights and safe working practices" while the Gulf state prepares for the 2022 World Cup.

Whether that event goes ahead after a blizzard of corruption allegations remains to be seen. If charges stick, Sturgeon, for one, believes there is a "very strong case" for re-running the selection contest. What we know now is that Scotland's "international challenge match" against a country likened repeatedly to a slave state was staged in Edinburgh on Friday without a murmur from the Scottish government.

Until Sturgeon spoke no SNP politician, in Edinburgh or London, had much to say about the Scottish Football Association's desire to entertain guests from a country in which 1200 migrant workers have died since 2010. Never mind FIFA. How was a wee match at Easter Road, with no competitive purpose, decent in such a context?

During a recent BBC Question Time, the SNP's Commons spokesman on culture, media and sport had to be told a game was in the offing. John Nicholson's hesitant response was to ask whether the friendly would be played in Scotland or in Qatar.

Shona Robison, secretary for health, well-being and sport at Holyrood, has condemned human rights abuses as "unacceptable" and written to the Qatari FA and government employing the Sturgeon formula of "practical help". But of SFA hospitality, of a public demonstration of what is and is not acceptable, the minister remained silent.

Humza Yousaf, secretary for external affairs and international development, has made trade visits to Qatar. On a trip in May 2013, democracy was discussed. In November 2013, Yousaf welcomed guests to the first "Scotland Day" in Doha. Last year, he enthused over a new Qatar Airways service to Edinburgh.

Yousaf is anything but oblivious to human rights. He has called Tory schemes to dismantle the UK's Human Rights Act "medieval". He has raised Scottish concerns with the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the body charged with World Cup preparations. But the SNP's formula is consistent: Qatar should be aided, not shunned. Why?

Boycotts are not as popular as they were when apartheid South Africa was being brought to its senses. Neither Amnesty International nor the Scottish Trades Union Congress called for Friday's game to be cancelled. Jamie Hepburn, Robison's deputy, said playing the match was "a decision for the SFA".

That body has grown more sophisticated since 1977. Back then, it struggled to understand the uproar over a Scotland game in a Chilean stadium just vacated by Augusto Pinochet's executioners. Now the SFA remembers to condemn "behaviour that compromises human rights" while working with the Scottish government to "provide practical support" - whatever that means - to the Qataris.

In reality, despite protests and STUC leaflets, the SFA never for a moment considered cancelling the Easter Road game. In a statement, the association thanked the Qatar FA for "flexibility", and expressed gratitude to Qatar Airlines for sponsorship. That's the word football uses when it doesn't want to mention money.

It is worth mentioning, however, that Qatar Airlines is wholly-owned by the Qatar government. Sponsorship follows the flag. The country, in turn, is an absolute monarchy. The family of Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani have been exploring the meaning of absolutism since the middle of the 19th century.

Elections last month for an "advisory" municipal council involved 21,000 registered voters from a population of 2.12 million. Close to 90% of those are "expatriates" who can neither claim nor earn the franchise. This does not exempt them from stoning or flogging if they breach laws relating to matters such as apostasy, adultery, and homosexuality. Qatar is terrific for shopping, however.

A peninsula of 11,600 square kilometres is also rich. Its GDP exceeds $200 billion. The Qatar Investment Authority owns Harrods, a sixth of Volkswagen, 12.7% of Barclays, Canary Wharf, and the largest holding in Sainsbury's. Such facts inhibit governments liable to denounce slave labour. David Cameron met the emir last year, just after Qatar was deemed a "priority market" for UK arms sales.

Alex Salmond never had to stoop to that. He did find it in himself, however, to contemplate seeking Qatari investment loans in 2009. In 2011, during a visit, he found "remarkable similarities" between Scotland and the emirate, at least in the context of low-carbon energy.

You could argue that sport has made little enough fuss over human rights since Hitler was allowed his Olympics in 1936. The world admired Beijing's 2008 effort without worrying over the Chinese regime. After the first ball was kicked in Brazil's World Cup, no one remembered riot police assaulting protesters.

You could also argue - the gambit would be nothing new - that we have no right to impose "western values" on conservative states. The victims of the kafala ("sponsorship") system of migrant management that allows Qatar to spend $200 billion on shiny infrastructure for its World Cup, might say otherwise.

The International Trade Union Confederation talks of kafala in terms of slavery: it's that simple. Bound to their "sponsors", housed abominably, denied liberty and worked ferociously in blazing heat, migrants have been dying in numbers that should take the gloss of anyone's love of football.

The Qataris are upset over those 1200 deaths. In particular, they are furious at a Washington Post blog illustrating the losses. A statement from Saif Al Thani - possibly a relation - of the Qatari Government Communications Office said: "This [number] is completely untrue. In fact, after almost five million work-hours on World Cup construction sites, not a single worker's life has been lost. Not one."

That might be because work on "World Cup construction sites" - the stadiums - has barely begun. Labour has been going in to the many other things, from hotels to services to roads, which attend a sporting occasion. Even if the deaths do not indict the World Cup bid, they say something, a great deal, about the country.

For Scotland's part, cancellation of an otherwise irrelevant match might have forced an issue. Boycotts have to start somewhere. On Friday, the national side emerged with a 1-0 victory after a dull game before 14,270 people at Easter Road. As friendlies go, it was a respectable crowd. None of the witnesses were too outraged, it seems, by slave labour.

On TV, I looked in, now and then. If there is a World Cup tournament in Qatar in 2022, I won't be watching. FIFA, corruption, and the new, transnational colonialism, with TV as its pimp and exploitation as its currency, will not end until there is a new boycott. We have to stop being the mute audience.

The SNP have not grasped it yet. They were stonily silent until Sturgeon spoke last week. Her remarks came only after Labour's Neil Findlay called for a postponement of the Easter Road game. Increasingly, too often, it is left to one woman to provide moral leadership for Scotland's government.