Monday, 6 May 2013

Charities good, Better Together bad

The row over Better Together's £500k donation from Vitol president Ian Taylor refuses to die.
Today, an SNP-commissioned YouGov poll reports most Scots who have a view on the subject want the No campaign to hand the money back because of Vitol deals in shady places.

However the SNP takes a rather different view of Ian Taylor's charitable giving.
Indeed, three SNP ministers have very publicly supported one project that got £50k from Taylor.

So if it's too "dirty" for Better Together, why is Taylor's cash clean enough for charities backed by the SNP?
Pure hypocrisy from Angus Robertson et al, say Better Together. 
Here's the full version of the story from today's Herald.

Tom Gordon
THE SNP has been accused of hypocrisy for demanding the pro-union Better Together campaign should return £500,000 from a controversial donor, after it emerged SNP ministers are backing groups getting money from the same source.   

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and former minister Bruce Crawford are among 20 SNP MSPs who backed a Scots charity which took money from Ian Taylor, president of oil trader Vitol.

First Minister Alex Salmond also has ties to a Scottish project part-funded by Taylor.

The SNP has called for a month for Better Together to return Mr Taylor’s money on ethical grounds, because of Vitol’s dealings with Serbia, Libya, Iran and Iraq.

The SNP has repeatedly cited Labour MP John Mann’s description of Mr Taylor’s separate donations to the Tories as “dirty money”.
A protest is planned by pro-independence campaigners outside Better Together’s Glasgow headquarters today [Monday, May 6] over the donation.
However Mr Taylor’s giving is not limited to Better Together or the Conservatives.
In recent years, the London-based charity he founded with his wife Tina, the Taylor Family Foundation, has given millions to good causes across the UK, including several in Scotland.
In 2009 and 2010 the Taylor Family Trust gave a total of £50,000 to Sistema Scotland, the Stirling charity which teaches music to children in disadvantaged areas.
The money helped run its "Big Noise" orchestra in Raploch.
In September 2010, Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford, then SNP minister for parliamentary business, hosted a reception for Sistema Scotland at the Scottish Parliament.
Bruce Crawford hosted Sistema gig
Last November, the Scottish Government also gave Sistema Scotland £1.3m to set up a second Big Noise orchestra in Govanhill, which is in Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow Southside constituency.
Ms Sturgeon and Ms Hyslop took part in a photo opportunity to publicise the grant.
Ms Hyslop said the charity was “a fantastic example of how cultural activity can deliver real benefits to individuals, communities and wider society”, while Ms Sturgeon said it was “transforming lives through music”.” 
More than 20 SNP MSPs have also signed Holyrood motions supporting Sistema and its work. 

The SNP last night refused to explain why it was wrong for Better Together to take Mr Taylor’s money but fine for a charity, saying merely there was a “world of difference” between the two.

Besides Sistema Scotland, Ian Taylor’s Family Foundation has helped Dumfries House, a stately home restoration backed by Prince Charles and First Minister Alex Salmond. 
Through Historic Scotland, the SNP Government contributed £5m in 2007 to a rescue fund for the 18th century Ayrshire mansion, helping to save it for the nation.
Mr Taylor’s charity gave £100,000 in 2012. 
In September 2012, Alex Salmond welcomed Prince Charles to a fundraiser for Dumfries House at Ayr races. 
The Taylor Family Foundation also gave £25,000 to Stirling University recently to support talented student tennis players; £5000 to Islay & Jura Community Enterprises, which runs Bowmore swimming pool; and £5000 to the Mairi Semple Fund cancer charity in Argyll.
At a UK level, Ian Taylor’s Foundation has given Unicef £666,000, Save the Children £140,000, Great Ormond Street Hospital £105,000, and the NSPCC more than £70,000. 
Sturgeon and Hyslop backing Sistema in Glasgow
Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “This is plain and simple hypocrisy. 
“The Nationalists’ failure to demand the return of Ian Taylor’s contribution to the wide range of charities in Scotland through his Taylor Family Foundation is telling. 
“It shows that their attempts to discredit Ian Taylor and his personal donation are nothing more than a shallow politically motivated manoeuvre. I trust the nationalists will now cease their unpleasant vendetta.”
A Better Together spokesman said: “We have been saying for weeks that Ian Taylor has made a significant contribution to Scotland but SNP ministers continue to smear him to try to stop others coming forward to support us. It’s hypocritical and the worst kind of politics.”
Asked if charities benefiting from Mr Taylor’s Foundation should hand the money back, an SNP spokesman said: “There is a world of difference between a music charity, and a political campaigning organisation. 
“It was Labour MP and Treasury Select Committee member John Mann who described Mr Taylor’s donations to the Tories as ‘dirty money’. The longer this issue runs, the more public opinion will put pressure on Alistair Darling and the No campaign to hand back this political donation back - and no amount of diversionary tactics will change that.”

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Charity begins at Stirling Castle

Got an idea for a new charity, but wondering about publicity and start-up costs?
Why not get the First Minister to throw in thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money and Stirling Castle for the night - 14 weeks before your charity is even registered?
Sound like a solid plan?
Funnily enough, it worked swimmingly for one senior member of the SNP.
Here's a longer version of the story in today's Herald.

Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond is embroiled in a row after £16,000 of public support was given to a project headed by a key member of the SNP and the pro-independence campaign.

More than  £9,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on the launch of the Scottish Asian Women’s Association (SAWA) at Stirling Castle last year, only 48 hours after it had applied to become a registered charity.

Around half the cash was spent on canapes at the event, which was hosted by the First Minister.

The SNP Government also secured the castle’s Great Hall for the night, something which would ordinarily cost almost £7000.

The founder and chair of SAWA is Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a member of the advisory board on the Yes Scotland campaign.

A former Pakistan TV actress who now practises as a solicitor in Glasgow, Ms Sheikh is also
a senior member of the SNP and is tipped to become a Nationalist MEP next year.
The FM and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh at last year's SAWA launch
She has known the First Minister since 2000, when she defected from the Conservatives.
Described by SNP collegeaues as an ambitious networker, Ms Sheikh, 42, set up SAWA with the aim of empowering and raising the profile of Scots Asian women and promoting diversity. 
Government files obtained by the Herald through Freedom of Information (FoI) show Salmond agreed in September 2011 to host the SAWA launch after a meeting with Ms Sheikh.
By January 2012, Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had agreed to attend on
April 19, and the government Events Team had secured Stirling Castle for the night.
Speaking as the official host of the launch, Salmond told the 160 guests that Ms Sheikh was an “excellent” role model.
Six weeks later she was appointed to the board of YesScotland.
One of those present described the event as a “Nat fest”, with numerous SNP supporters.
The government said its total spend was £9,260, which included almost £5400 on catering, £4500 of it for canapes; £1750 on audio-visual equipment; £1050 for pipers; £444 for flowers; £350 for a band; and £90 to print the invites. 
Historic Scotland, which runs Stirling Castle, quoted a price of £5750 plus VAT to hire the Great Hall for an evening, or £6900, making total support to the value of £16,160.
The launch took place barely 48 hours after Ms Sheikh applied to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (Oscr) for SAWA to become a recognised charity, according to files released by the regulator, also under FoI.
SAWA was not granted full charitable status until 30 July, 14 weeks after its launch.
A Labour spokesman said: “We would expect all support for charitable organisations to be based on need and for funding to be distributed openly and fairly, particularly at a time when charities all over Scotland are facing serious financial pressures.
“We support the stated aims of SAWA, but it would be unfortunate if this good work was undermined by a perception of favouritism based on political allegiances.”
Once dubbed “a political butterfly” because of her shifting allegiances, Ms Sheikh was a Labour party member in the 1990s, but stood for the Conservatives in the 1999 Holyrood election, coming third in Glasgow Govan.
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh was previously a Conservative candidate
A year later she defected to the SNP, a switch Salmond hailed at the time as a coup.
She is currently SNP National Women’s Officer.
In January 2011, Education Secretary Mike Russell appointed her to a review ofteacher employment, and a year later she joined the management  board of City of Glasgow College.
In March, Salmond and Ms Sheikh’s 17-year-old daughter Elysee, who the First Minister praised at the SAWA launch, took part in a stunt at the SNP conference, where the girl was described as the SNP’s 25,000th member.
The move was interpreted as Salmond annointing Ms Sheikh in the SNP’s internal candidate rankings for next year’s European elections.
Two days later, Ms Sheikh was the only woman shortlisted for Europe by SNP activists, and is now expected to be ranked among the top three places this autumn, giving her a very good chance of becoming an MEP.
Earlier this year, Salmond last month hosted a SAWA awards ceremony attended by Labour leader Johann Lamont and LibDem leader Willie Rennie.
A Labour source said the awards were as SNP-heavy as the SAWA launch.“It was made pretty clear to any non-SNP guests they were asked along as political cover. 
The amount of saltire-waving would have made the average nationalist cringe.”
Alex Salmond and Ms Sheikh in 2000
In 2008 Salmond put his support - and more public money - behind another group headed by another friend and SNP candidate, his former aide Osama Saeed.
Saeed’s Scottish Islamic Foundation made a series of overblown promises and after spending £203,000 of taxpayers’ money the company behind it was formally dissolved in January with nothing to show for it.
Another Salmond aide, Humza Yousaf, now SNP minister for international development, was an SIF director from May 2008 to September 2009. 
Asked about the perception of cronyism, Ms Sheikh said SAWA had cross-party support.
“[It] is a charity set up to assist, in particular, Asian women in Scotland who, due to varying circumstances, feel that they are in need of support, guidance and mentoring. 
“We seek, through recognition and training, to inspire women to achieve their true potential, so that their increased representation and participation in both public and political life in Scotland can be achieved.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Any such claims [of cronyism] would be wrong and totally unfounded. The launch in April 2012... was beneficial to both Scottish Asian women and wider representatives of Scottish civic life and industry. 
"The Association now has charitable status and its most recent event was attended on a cross-party basis.”