EARLIER this month Humza Yousaf wrote to Rishi Sunak demanding that the UK immediately end arms sales to Israel.

As Israel’s military campaign in Gaza continues to claim civilian lives it’s a call that many Scots support.

Understandably, they don’t want their taxes to contribute to a conflict which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

However while the UK Government ignores Yousaf’s call to end arms sales, it’s worth scrutinising the Scottish Government’s own public investments in the arms industry.

Scottish Enterprise gives public grants to arms companies

Scottish Enterprise is Scotland’s national economic development agency and acts as a conduit for the Scottish Government to invest in private businesses in the interests of boosting the country’s economy.

It invests in all sorts of companies through a variety of schemes – from large engineering firms to small businesses just getting started.

But the agency has also handed over millions in support grants to arms companies.

The National: The BAE Systems factory in GlasgowThe BAE Systems factory in Glasgow (Image: PA)

Since 2019 Scottish Enterprise has provided at least £8.2 million to 13 different arms companies.

For example, between 2022-23 the Scottish explosive firm Chemring Energetics UK Ltd received £1.2 million in funding for a research and development project.

In recent years it has also provided £1.6 million to BAE Systems, £1.5 million to Babcock Marine, £700,000 to Italian defence contractor Leonardo, £600,000 to Raytheon Systems, and smaller amounts to companies such as Thales UK, James Fisher Defence, Lockheed Martin and Spirit AeroSystems.

How is Scottish Enterprise’s money being spent by arms companies?

Scottish Enterprise stresses that it does not fund munitions despite investing in companies that manufacture them.

Instead, it focuses its support to help these companies diversify, “heavily focusing on non-military and civilian applications, such as new products that assist emergency services”.

However, questions have been raised about the level of scrutiny being applied to the companies who receive this money.

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Scottish Enterprise undertakes a human rights due diligence check on any company being considered to receive public cash.

However, an investigation by The Ferret last year found that of the 199 checks conducted since January 2021, not a single company failed.

This is despite the fact that many of the firms in receipt of Scottish Enterprise funding manufacture weapons such as missiles and combat aircrafts that are used by the Israeli military.

The National: A man looks over the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in GazaA man looks over the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza (Image: AP Photo)

While there is no suggestion that any of the public money is used for munitions, campaigners say it still risks implicating Scotland in conflicts such as those in Gaza or Yemen.

The profits of war

It’s also worth noting that these defence companies stand to profit enormously from warfare.

For example, BAE Systems recorded record sales of £25.3 billion in 2023 and expected “sustained growth” in the years to come.

While the CEO of Raytheon parent company RTX, Greg Hayes, noted in the wake of the October 7 attacks that restocking of Israel’s Iron Dome defence system would be of “benefit” to the company.

READ MORE: Weapons investments 'ethical' under new criteria, Rishi Sunak says

Of course, some of this benefit is felt within Scotland’s own economy.

According to ADS Scotland, the trade body representing the country’s defence, aerospace, naval and security sectors, they contributed £3.2 billion in value to Scotland’s economy in 2022.

It also employs more than 30,000 people, acting as a vital source of employment in some regions.

Call for an end to taxpayer funding of arms companies

Last month, the Campaign Against Arms Trade encouraged supporters to write to First Minister Humza Yousaf and Minister for Small Business, Trade and Innovation Richard Lochhead to demand the end to Scottish Enterprises funding arms companies.

A template of the letter read: “It seems impossible that Holyrood could possibly berate the UK government for licensing weapons to Israel while the Scottish government are funding the development of these weapons for use by the Israeli forces on people in Gaza”.