Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Battle of Culloden

The First Minister's love of golf has generated some bad headlines recently involving the Ryder Cup.
Now there's more anger over the use of public money for a costly stay at the Scottish Open, where the FM held court with overseas investors.

Here's a guest post from @paulhutcheon of the Sunday Herald.

By Paul Hutcheon

ALEX Salmond has been criticised after the taxpayer funded a five-night stay in a luxury hotel to help him attend a golf tournament beside Inverness.

The SNP Government has confirmed putting up the First Minister at the famous Culloden House as the Scottish Open was being staged nearby.

Officials are refusing to put a figure on the accommodation costs, or say whether the First Minister’s wife also stayed in a hotel that has hosted Elton John and actor Hugh Grant.

Culloden House: Not your average B&B
It was revealed last year that the First Minister-led delegation to September’s Ryder Cup cost around £470,000, a sum described by Labour as “eye watering”.
Two months before the Ryder Cup, the public purse was also used to help Mr Salmond visit another high-profile golf event.
The 2012 Scottish Open was held at the Castle Stuart course overlooking the Moray Firth between the 12th and 15th of July.
According to the First Minister’s log of chauffeur-driven car journeys, which is available on the Government website, the SNP leader arrived at Culloden House, a twelve minute drive from the course, on July 10th.
Alex Salmond take part in the pro-am on 11 July 2012
A car took Mr Salmond from the hotel to Castle Stuart on the 11th July, where he took part in the “pro-am” event, a journey that was repeated for the next three days.
The logs also show that the First Minister was taken from the course back to Culloden House on the days between the 11th and 14th of July.
However, questions are now being asked about the appropriateness of the taxyaper funding such of lavish accommodation.
Mr Salmond’s home, in Strichen, is a two hour drive from Castle Stuart.
Culloden House was where Bonnie Prince Charlie had his lodgings before the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
In 2011, readers of Conde Naste Traveller named Culloden as their “favourite hotel” in the British Isles.
Set over 40 acres, a “superior” double room costs £320, while a suite is priced at £395 a night.
A spokesperson for the First Minister confirmed the Government paid for him to stay at Culloden House, but pointed out that Mr Salmond had carried out six ministerial engagements in the Inverness area during the period.
Three of these meetings - with Mitsubishi, Seawind and Daktari - took place at the golf club.
Asked whether the First Minister’s wife also stayed overnight at Culloden House, the spokesperson said this question would be considered under freedom of information legislation.
The Government also declined to answer questions about costs.

Salmond in the rough 11-7-12
Patricia Ferguson, Scottish Labour’s sport spokesperson, said: “At a time when families all over the country are tightening their belts because of the financial crisis, the idea that the First Minister of Scotland is charging them so he can enjoy the best part of a week at the golf is unbelievable.
“When the First Minister isn’t using his office to run a full-time referendum campaign, it would appear he is using it to fund his lavish hobby as a golf fan. What he clearly isn’t doing is the job he was elected to do, which is protect the people of Scotland from the Tory cuts.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “We all know the First Minister enjoys his golf, but like everyone else he should be paying for his own accommodation, particularly when there are so many demands on public resources. If he and his SNP Ministers expect public sector workers to tighten their belts, they should lead by example.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The First Minister undertook Government business at Castle Stuart and nearby, including business meetings to discuss employment and investment - and we expect a major jobs announcement soon as a result of these talks. He stayed overnight ten minutes from Castle Stuart, rather than making a four-and-half-hour round trip each day.”

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