Another government, another sleaze scandal.
And we all roll our eyes wearily and say we expected no better from the Millionaires Club who just gave their wealthy pals a big tax boost.
This is a scandal created and set in Toryland. £250k for three courses with Dave and Sam. Nice to see the PM’s wife thrown in to seal the deal.
So how come the headline screaming from pages 4 and 5 of today’s Scotsman is “Sleaze: dinner with SamCam and “mad Scotsman” Salmond“? It is a gross distortion of what the report and story is actually about.
This headline suggests that the sleaze scandal involved the First Minister directly, that somehow Alex Salmond was complicit in this, that somehow – inexplicably – he had cut a deal with Cameron to get on this nice little earner. The mind boggles, frankly.
But it is utterly wrong. How Scotland’s First Minister ended up embroiled in this saga is because Peter Cruddas, the Conservatives’ former co-Treasurer, who was caught in the sting offering access to the Prime Minister in return for a six figure sum, was trying to impress his erstwhile donor. In order to prove his credentials and his ability to mix it with the toffs at the top of the Tory party, Cruddas was caught on camera joshing that he and the Prime Minister had “jokingly referred” to Alex Salmond as “the mad Scotsman“.
Rightly, the FM has written to the PM suggesting that he explain himself. Such behaviour and name-calling is unbecoming – or at least, getting found out is what is problematic. This throwaway remark might just get David Cameron into a whole lot more bother, and rightly so. If he thought of trying to make this one go away quickly, he reckoned without the tenacity of an SNP Government which never knowingly undersold the opportunity to remind the Scots of the awfulness of thon yins at Westminster. Frankly, if this is how they think and talk about our First Minister in private, then they deserve all they get.
But it is the fact that editorially, the Scotsman chose to use the opportunity of Alex Salmond being mentioned in dispatches to attempt to give the impression that this episode of sleaze involved the First Minister. How sly.
Ultimately, no party has completely clean hands on the matter of political donations. The SNP had its knuckles rapped for auctioning dinner at Holyrood with the FM as a fundraiser. A seemingly innocuous little ruse to raise money created the perception rather than the reality of sleaze. In truth, only the most ardent SNP supporter would see this as something worth parting with hard cash for. In years of relying utterly on private donations, this is the only episode to blot the SNP’s copybook. Labour, Lib Dems and the Conservatives should be so lucky.
Despite vigorous attempts by them – especially Labour – to join the dots between Brian Souter’s largesse and his business and personal interests, they have failed. Simply, because they cannot be joined. What the muck-rakers have failed to realise is that Souter was a donor and supporter long before the SNP became fashionable. The sneering at his offer in the 2011 election campaign to donate half a million pounds if ordinary members could match it pound for pound ignored the fact that match it they did. And then some.
The truth about SNP funding is much more prosaic: there are very few large cash donors and the success of its fundraising efforts in recent years owes much to making a virtue out of necessity. When no one would touch the party with a bargepole, it relied solely on Obama-esque fundraising, gathering in lots of little amounts from its members. Long before it became fashionable, small schemes spread throughout the party were initiated to spread the pain and maximise the gain.
Having never had to rely on big sums, it learned to make do with lots of little amounts instead – unlike the other parties, who have struggled when big funding streams have dried up. Up to their necks in hock to their overdrafts, the major Unionist parties have become ever more desperate in their need to raise the readies. Hence, this latest imbroglio. Unless and until a shift is made to public funding of political parties, such scandals will continue to dog the image of politics on these islands. And democracy will suffer.
But none of this excuses nor justifies the shocking attempt to embroil the First Minister in this episode. The fact that the headline has disappeared from the online version of the Scotsman and been replaced with a more appropriate and indeed, truthful treatment speaks volumes.
No matter, the damage has been done. A dwindling readership the Scotsman might have but still, over 30,000 people in Scotland opened their newspaper today to be given the impression that the First Minister was involved and that the SNP was also offering cash for access to major donors.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s hoping that appropriate missives have been dispatched from the party’s lawyers.