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.”


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like more questionable spending from the SNP , where is the £54k Eck ?