Labour joins the calls for Scottish Tories to come clean over ‘dark money’

Ruth Davidson doing a speech at the Tory party conference
Brian Finlay

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.

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He also took to Twitter to have a swipe at both the Scottish Conservatives and, rather vaguely, the SNP about lobbying:

Some SNP supporters retaliated to Findlay’s vague attack:

Some, however, have welcomed his calls for more transparency from the Scottish Conservatives:

Unlock Democracy

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:

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.

Increased pressure

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:

This promoted ridicule from political opponents:

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:

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:

Come on, Scottish Tories. Voters are waiting for the truth. And they’re getting impatient.

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