Sunday, 8 April 2012

House of Secrets

Politicians, access, secrecy - it's never a good combination.
Here's a longer version of today's story in the Sunday Herald

Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

RECORDS of overnight guests at Alex Salmond’s official residence are being systematically destroyed despite public concerns about lobbying and access to politicians, it has emerged.

Details of all those enjoying the First Minister’s private hospitality are deleted within 72 hours, once security personnel no longer require them, the Sunday Herald has learned.

The destruction of records means the names of Salmond’s most favoured guests remain a secret.

Labour last night claimed the system was open to abuse, and urged Salmond to start publishing full records of his guests to ensure transparency.

The call comes just days after the First Minister insitigated an external inquiry into his own conduct after he treated a series of SNP donors, including Ayrshire’s £161m lottery winners Colin and Christine Weir, to tea at Bute House.

The Weirs gave the SNP a record £1m donation just four days after meeting Salmond at the A-listed Georgian mansion on September 9 last year.

Do the leaves predict a fortune?
However because Salmond gave them tea rather than lunch, dinner or drinks, their names were not recorded on any official hospitality register.

It also emerged last week that Salmond hosted two other SNP donors and their wives at Bute House.

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.

In the wake of a flurry of negative headlines about donors and sleaze, Salmond referred himself to his independent adviser, the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, who will now judge whether he broke the ministerial code.

Prime Minister David Cameron is also under fire after claims he entertained big Tory donors to private - rather than official - dinners at his Downing Street flat and Chequers residence.

The latest row involving Salmond also involves a  distinction between his official use of Bute House for work and his private use of it as a home.

The former is officially documented while the latter isn’t - a convenient loophole, say critics, could let a First Minister entertain guests and potential donors away from scrutiny.
Bute House: The First Minister's official residence
When the Sunday Herald first requested the names of overnight guests at Bute House last June, officials said they did not hold the information.

They said there had been no “official” overnight guests at the residence since Salmond became First Minister in 2007, but confirmed there had occassionally been “private” overnight guests.

The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office last week issued a ruling on the case accepting that the government had no records to divulge, but only because the information was “retained for two to three days and then disposed of”.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish LibDem leader, said: “It can’t be that difficult for the First Minister to recall which guests he had staying at his official residence. 

“He’s always keen to be open and up-front,  so this would be an excellent way of following through on that commitment.

“There also needs to be a review of record keeping at Bute House so concerns about access are addressed.”

Labour MSP Paul Martin added: “Alex Salmond's standards are even lower than David Cameron's.

“We demand the First Minister starts being and transparent and this loophole must be closed.

“If no official records are kept, then it falls to the First Minister himself to let us know who has invited to stay over in official government residences.

“Alex Salmond needs to set out who he has invited to stay and clarify whether any, like his dinner guests, are donors to the SNP.”

The First Minister's office declined to say if any SNP donors were among Salmond's overnight guests.

His spokesman said: “We are pleased that the Information Commissioner inds that we complied in full with our Freedom of Information requirements, which concludes the matter.

“Of course, this is entirely consistent with the practice of previous administrations, whether it be the Labour/Lib Dem coalition or Tory Scottish Secretaries.

“However, in the case of the SNP administration, no donor events and nothing associated with party fundraising take place in Bute House – never has and never will.

“Everyone receiving hospitality at government events at Bute House is recorded, and the information is proactively published by this administration, unlike our predecessors.”

Hate and Lyall?

My fellow Holyrood hack Simon Johnson has had a run of stories at the Telegraph recently about Lyall Duff, an SNP council candidate for the Murdostoun ward in North Lanarkshire.
Duff Man: Lyall Duff
After using Facebook to call two Catholic midwives who sued the NHS  "money-grabbing old witches", Duff was suspended by the party last week. 
Now the Sunday Herald has unearthed a cache of internet posts made by Duff under the alias AuldNick.
Duff admits writing some of them, like the one where he's bragging about his collection of 80+ bayonets, but says he "can't remember" writing others, like where Lanarkshire is dubbed "God's toilet".
He also says the online accounts were used by his son and mechanics at his garage business.
Other posts by AuldNick feature immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and the Glasgow airport terror attack.
Funnily enough, a lot of the quirky spelling and subject matter seen on Duff's Facebook page also features in the AuldNick postings.
Here's a longer version of the story in today's Sunday Herald

Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

AN SNP council candidate suspended last week over remarks about Catholic midwives is at the centre of a new row over offensive internet comments about immigrants and muslims.

Lyall Duff, who was suspended by the party for making "totally unacceptable" remarks on Facebook, yesterday said he "can’t remember" if he also posted a series of tasteless remarks on internet forums under the alias AuldNick.

Duff admitted using accounts with the name, but said these were also used by his son, also Lyall, and several mechanics working at his garage.
However Duff confirmed that in one forum he had talked about his "small collection" of more than 80 bayonets, including one designed by Hitler.

Duff was suspended by the SNP after describing two Catholic midwives who lost a legal case against the NHS after refusing to carry out abortions as "money grabbing old witches".
He also used his Facebook page to urge people to burn RBS bankers and called its former boss, Fred Goodiwn, an "orrible little c**t".
However he remains on the ballot for May’s election in North Lanarkshire as it is too late to remove him, and the SNP have not expelled him.
Critics claim Alex Salmond has failed to disown Duff completely as he could prove vital to the balance of power on the council if elected.
Labour said Duff had to give a full account of his postings, and claimed there were similarities in spelling and subject matter between ‘AuldNick’ and Duff on Facebook.
Duff was also indentified in a 2005 photograph on one forum as "Lyall (Auldnick)".
And when joining one forum in 2003, Auldnick gave his contact details as: "Lyall (AuldNick), Wishaw (Scotlands shit hole), Lanarkshire (God´s toilet)" and his email as

Wishaw: Not AuldNick's kinda town
MGM Services is Duff’s car and motorbike repair business in Motherwell.
Asked yesterday if he wrote those remarks, Duff, who is standing for the Murdostoun ward near Wishaw, said: "I can’t remember."
Other online comments by AuldNick include the claim that "not one" Muslim would admit Osama Bin Laden had killed women and children, and the joke: "Whats sperm an immigrants got in common... thousands flood in but only one works".
AuldNick also called the Irish "a bunch of blaggin gits 50% pikey", said German women "sell sex for a tenner", and described Scots as "the one and only true master race".
The day two terrorists drove a burning jeep into Glasgow Airport, AuldNick wrote: "Round up the family and close friends and ship them to Gaza".
Of the terrorist who sustained fatal burns, AuldNick added: "We need to keep him alive BUT with minimum pain relief.., he chose his life so let the crispy fukir boil & bubble for the next 50 years.. We need to see the back of his friends & family, Pakistan sounds nice."
In other forums AuldNick called Baroness Thatcher a "slag" and on several occasions advised misleading the police to create "reasonable doubt" in order to evade speeding fines.
"Report your number plates stolen IE walk into any police station with them silly wee plastic screws and tell the nice policeman somebody knicked your plates (plate for motorcycles) get a pink slip = no more camera fines".
In April 2007, he complained about the Lanarkshire marching season: "You wanna try living up here, the local councils and the plod close main roads every frigging weekend during the summer so a few bigot/hate morons can have their orange/hibs ‘walks’ IE a few drunk fat blokes get to stagger down the middle of any road they fancy.
"This nonsense is called ‘the marching season’ and any bigot can shut any road and the suits N pink shirts pay ‘cos it ain’t their money, nowt to do with charity and everything to do with hate, how wrong is that?"
The day after the SNP won the 2007 Holyrood election, AuldNick started a discussion called Freedom which said ex-MSP Tommy Sheridan was "just a freeloader BUT he was the only mouth that stood up to the Thatcher slag during the poll tax wars".
Frank Roy, Labour MP for Motherwell & Wishaw, said: "These insults are unacceptable. Nobody talks Motherwell and Wishaw down like this.
"If this man isn’t out on his ear by the end of the day, it is clear the SNP are protecting him."
Duff told the Sunday Herald his Facebook comments had been "very stupid", but vehemently denied there had been any sectarian element to them, as had been reported by some newspapers: "I don’t have a problem with any race or religion".
An SNP spokesman said: "Mr Duff was suspended from membership of the Scottish National Party last Monday for making wholly unacceptable remarks, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further until the disciplinary process reaches its conclusion."