Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Weir Meet Again

With calls for an overhaul of the Ministerial Code in the air, plus a stooshie over the Scottish Government and FoI today, here's a tale that combines the two.

Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond has invited two of the SNP’s richest donors to his official residence for a second time despite controversy over their first visit, prompting a fresh round of criticism.

Correspondence obtained by this blog  shows the First Minister has asked Euro lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir to pay a return visit to Bute House in Edinburgh.

The invite went out just a day after Salmond was cleared of breaching the ministerial code by entertaining the couple at the taxypayer-funded mansion last year.

Chris and Colin Weir: Party on
The Weirs, who become Europe’s biggest lottery winners in July 2011 by scooping £161m, were first guests at Bute House in September 2011. 

Four days later, the Largs couple each gave £500,000 to the SNP, the largest single day’s donation in the party’s history.

However their presence was not made public in official hospitality records, as Mr Salmond provided only tea and biscuits at his own expense, not food or alcohol from the public purse.

When the sequence of events finally emerged in March, Labour accused the First Minister of sleaze and of misusing his official residence to help raise funds for his party.

Labour MSP Paul Martin also claimed the First Minister had breached the ministerial code of conduct, leading to an investigation by former Lord Advice Dame Elish Angiolini.

After the First Minister said there was no discussion of money or donations during the visit, and that the tea and biscuits were from his own supply, she concluded there was no breach and no evidence to justify Mr Martin’s complaint.

Dame Elish also noted Mr Salmond knew Mr Weir from his past activity in the SNP - he was a party candidate and publicity convener in the 1980s.

The next day, the First Minister wrote a jokey note to the Weirs to say he was in the clear.

He said: “I am writing to let you know that the circumstances of your visit to Bute House on 9 September have been fully investigated and Dame Elish Angiolini has cleared me of any wrong doing in relation to tea and biscuits!
“Now that the dust has settled I would like to invite you back to Bute House at a mutually convenient time. 
"My office will be in touch to make the arrangements.”
Salmond letter to Weirs
It is not the first time the First Minister has had wealthy SNP donors round to Charlotte Square.
Businessman Ian Watson, who donated £138,750 to the party between 2005 and 2009, and his wife Victoria, who contributed £12,500 in 2005, were guests at a lunch in July last year to mark the official opening of the Scottish Parliament
Former Unliver executive David McCarthy and his wife were also dinner guests at Bute House after a royal garden party in July 2010.
McCarthy, a past president of the SNP’s Ochil branch, donated £5,045 to the party in 2007. 
Martin said: “Not only does Alex Salmond control the code which oversees his conduct, but he is now laughing at its integrity.
Tea at Bute House
“This reinforces our call for the Code to be re-examined - a proper means of ensuring good conduct by Government ministers is now needed.”
The Government said Mr Salmond and the Weirs had not met at Bute House since the June letter, and no meeting had yet been scheduled, however there was an expectation that they would meet soon.
A spokeswoman said: “This is utterly desperate from Labour. An independent investigation confirmed that the First Minister was absolutely entitled to invite the Weirs to meet him at Bute House to congratulate them on their good fortune and there is no reason why he should not meet them again.
"It is time Labour dropped the sour grapes and accepted the findings of the independent investigation instead of making continual complaints under the Ministerial Code and never accepting the findings.”

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