Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay has called [paywall] for the Scottish Conservatives to come clean about the ‘dark money’ scandal. The SNP and Scottish Green Party have voiced ongoing criticism [paywall] over secretive trusts and lobbying activities at the heart of the Ferret‘s investigation [paywall]. These allegations include “shadowy” donations by the former Scottish Tory vice chair Richard Cook to the DUP and donations received [paywall] from the Scottish Unionist Association Trust (SUAT).
Pressure building on Scottish Tories
As reported in the Ferret on 24 July, Findlay said [paywall]:
The scandal of ‘dark money’ seemingly being fed into the Scottish Tories and their bedfellows the DUP is deeply concerning.
He also took to Twitter to have a swipe at both the Scottish Conservatives and, rather vaguely, the SNP about lobbying:
I almost agree with Pete but the Scottish Tories are neck and neck with the brown nosing lobby fodder that is an SNP MSP – no matter how bad the situation (OFBA, BTP, Public Procurement, Budget cuts, fracking, HIE cuts, police and fire station closures) they all vote for them. pic.twitter.com/nyBV6UDwyt
— Neil Findlay MSP (@NeilFindlay_MSP) July 25, 2018
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Some SNP supporters retaliated to Findlay’s vague attack:
Didn’t 4 Labour MPs keep the “ Tories “ in government not a week ago ?
— McGovernCourtLawyers (@court_govern) July 25, 2018
Neil… Your brass neck is blinding
— ABCaesar🏴 (@paddybah) July 25, 2018
Some, however, have welcomed his calls for more transparency from the Scottish Conservatives:
Scottish Labour has now backed the request for a probe into the dark money alongside the SNP calling for MP’s conduct to be “urgently investigated”.
SUAT donations accounted for a fifth of Scottish Conservative party spending 2017 general election it is claimed#TORYSCANDAL
— THE BLACK SALTIRE#FBSI (@80_mcswan) July 24, 2018
The Labour MSP supports a campaign by Unlock Democracy requesting a Westminster investigation into two Scottish Conservative MPs. Unlock Democracy’s director, Alexandra Runswick, has sent a letter to the Commissioner of Standards highlighting alleged inconsistencies in the general election donations declared by Douglas Ross MP and David Duguid MP.
The Ferret reported on 24 July that the investigation was called because of potential breaches of the ‘Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament’. This is to clarify the “permissibility” of the SUAT donations and the process followed by MPs in declaring the donations.
Findlay said [paywall] about the investigation:
It is absolutely right for Unlock Democracy to refer this case to the Standards Commissioner – and this situation must be urgently investigated. The public has a right to know who is bankrolling the Tories and what these secretive donors expect in return for their large sums of money. Anything less would be an insult to their constituents in Moray and Banff and Buchan
As reported in the Ferret, when Duguid was interviewed by the BBC he claimed [paywall] to know nothing of SUAT, having been “more focused on winning the election than where any donation was coming from.” He went on to say [paywall] that all donations during the election “went through the appropriate process”. Duguid also stated [paywall] that the appropriateness of SUAT as a donor was “a matter for the party”.
What are the Tory ‘dark money’ allegations?
The ‘dark money’ scandal has been investigated by both the Ferret [paywall] and openDemocracy. The allegations stem from potentially questionable donations from the SUAT and a donation to the DUP in 2016 by Scottish Tory chair Richard Cook. A Herald article, on 22 July, reported that Cook was facing “renewed scrutiny” because of the £425,000 DUP donation prior to the EU referendum. This triggered new interest in the allegations by SNP politicians.
SNP MP Pete Wishart, who has been very vocal about these allegations, took to Twitter after recent developments:
It’s all beginning to close in on the Scottish Conservatives and their ‘dark money’. If I was then I’d open the books up now and explain where all this money’s come from. It will come out. https://t.co/Qvkg6DrQtJ
— Pete Wishart (@PeteWishart) July 25, 2018
A Scottish Conservative spokesperson has said [paywall] about SUAT donations:
Since 2001 the Conservative Party has declared all donations from the Trust in the correct way for permissible donations in accordance with the Electoral Commission. As always, we continue to work closely with the Electoral Commission on all these matters.
The ‘dark money’ scandal is putting the Scottish Tories under increased pressure to come clean about the allegations. Few Scottish Tories have mentioned ‘dark money’ on social media. Adam Morris, the Scottish Conservative head of media, tried to take a dig at the Ferret on Twitter:
The Ferret's like a self-important pub singer who, despite it being busy, insists on playing Ralph McTell songs all night. It's all very worthy, and one or two customers like it and say: "That's no bad."
But the majority want them to either shut up or play Brown Eyed Girl. https://t.co/NEpNDxNoto
— Adam Morris (@AdamMorrisEdin) July 24, 2018
This promoted ridicule from political opponents:
The Tories are definitely not rattled by the dark money investigation. Definitely not. https://t.co/NyPZ3pmPaw
— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) July 25, 2018
🤦♂️ Scottish Tories Head of Media had a late night pop at the independent investigative journalist website @FerretScot about their #DarkMoney investigation. I’m not convinced implying they should ‘shut up’ will work. pic.twitter.com/nwGSm90ySX
— Ross Colquhoun (@rosscolquhoun) July 25, 2018
The Scottish secretary, David Mundell, appeared on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland on 24 July. The host, Gary Robertson, tried to get some answers about ‘dark money’. And one listener was amused and surprised because ‘dark money’ was mentioned on the BBC:
What is going on with Gary Robertson??
Last week he gave Tory MP's Douglas Ross & Andrew Bowie a hard time when interviewing them & now DAVID MUNDELL get's the treatment!
— Craig Dempsey (@SaorAlba59) July 24, 2018
Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, continues to get off with being silent over ‘dark money’, in spite of the public frustration. This has, however, caused some backlash on Twitter:
If Ruth Davidson has time to appear at events and make statements about childcare then she has time to answer questions on a No Deal Brexit, Dark Money and the latest frigate blow to Clydeside. https://t.co/gNSoUMqbQv
— Indyref2 (@IndyrefTWO) July 25, 2018
The @Daily_Record smears @TommySheppard as a pro-Thatcher but pro-Thatcher #darkmoney Davidson saves dog. How can a fair indyref be held in this media climate? #UDI #BoycottTheRecord pic.twitter.com/L5iIwZzaqz
— Arthur🏴Stramash (@ArthurStramash) July 25, 2018
Come on, Scottish Tories. Voters are waiting for the truth. And they’re getting impatient.
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