Scottish Cash for Access “looks like a clear breach of the rules”

It has now emerged that the SNP have held 6 fundraising lunches in Parliament, leading to allegations they are abusing their position to allow cash for access.

Following news that the SNP had auctioned a lunch with Alex Salmond at Holyrood at a cost of £9,000 and one with his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, for £2,000 as a means of fundraising, it has now emerged that the pair have previously held six such lunches, leading to allegations that the SNP are abusing their position in government to allow cash for access.

The allegations have promoted a Labour party member from Edinburgh to report the First and Deputy First Ministers to the Scottish Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Stuart Allan.

Furthermore, the Parliament’s Corporate Body will investigate the matter to determine whether Parliamentary facilities have been used improperly for party political activity or gain.

Sir Alistair Graham, former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said:

“It’s very important for public officials to keep their public duties quite separate from their party political fundraising activities … at first glance it looks like a clear breach of the rules.”

In an attempt to take the initiative, Alex Salmond has now written to the Parliament’s Officer, Alex Fergusson, to make clear that he would cancel any outstanding lunches until the Corporate Body had reported. He continued:

“I have identified four such lunches, and Nicola Sturgeon has identified one lunch and a tour – since none of them have taken place, there is therefore no difficulty in the Corporate Body considering the issue as a matter of principle. Nor indeed have any of the donations been given.

“Many other members will be in a similar position, and what I propose is that the Corporate Body, at its meeting on Wednesday, consider issuing interim advice that charity lunches can continue until such time as the whole matter can be fully discussed and comprehensive new advice issued to members.”

The First Minister’s moves, however, have not served to dampen criticism from opposition parties.

In what is described as an exclusive, The Herald’s Political Editor, Brian Currie, quotes what he says is as a source close to former Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, as saying:

“The more serious charge is cash for ministerial access and private meetings.

“Ministers should not auction off their diary time to the highest bidder. They have to adhere to the highest standards to maintain the integrity of the office.”

The developments come just over two years since allegations of sleaze were made over how the Scottish Government handled a planning application for a golf resort by US billionaire and presenter of The Apprentice Donald Trump.

Similarly, on Wednesday, Left Foot Forward reported concerns by Scotland’s Information Commissioner over the Scottish Government’s handling of Freedom of Information requests, which he said “threatens to undermine the right-to- know regime”.

Whilst we await a report from the Parliament’s corporate body on the matter, Mr Salmond must surely understand how the events discussed at length in the Scottish media look to the world outside the First Minister’s Official residence at Bute House.

Scotland’s Corporate Body and standards watchdogs will have to ensure that any action that might be required is taken quickly to ensure Holyrood does not become embroiled in the sort of mess that many in Westminster have found themselves in.

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