Scotsman’s shocking distortion of sleaze scandal

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.

43 thoughts on “Scotsman’s shocking distortion of sleaze scandal

  1. The Hootsmon taking journalistic tips from the Daily Star and the Daily Sexpress, whatever next?

  2. Pingback: The Power of Words | The Wee Red Squirrel

  3. “Ultimately, no party has completely clean hands on the matter of political donations.”

    Citation required.

    • I’m guessing Kate got that from the same place people get their evidence that Soutar’s donation directly led to SNP deciding not to proceed with bus regulation…!

      • Ah, but let’s look at the timeline Doug. Autumn 2006, the SNP announce an intention to re-introduce bus regulation – this announcement was made at their conference that year. Spring 2007, Soutar “gifts” the SNP £500,000. Weeks later the previous pledge to re-introduce bus regulation is strangely missing from the SNP manifesto for the Holyrood 2007 election.

      • If Soutar was a critic of independence or just didn’t care either way, then there would indeed be something dodgy going on. But the guy is a very prominent supporter of independence, so which other party is he going to “gift”? He can hardly choose the Greens, who hate his guts.

        Not only that, but this story depends on the assumption that every announcement the SNP has ever made at Autumn conference before an election has then gone on to be included in the manifesto. The reality is this was the first SNP manifesto that ever stood a real chance of being put into action, so they were especially careful with their sums. After putting higher priority objectives like free prescriptions, the council tax freeze, ending the tolls and so on into the manifesto, bus regulation would have been a commitment too far. The sums didn’t add up, so it was dropped.

        Finally, the story depends on the assumption that in the middle of March, when he made the donation, the manifesto was unwritten. As you say, that’s just weeks before it was released. That’s just not plausible.

        I mean, I’m not saying I can’t see the ingredients there for people to take a pop at the SNP, but the way it is still trotted out as fact, 5 years later, is annoying. If it’s true, why has no one proved it?

    • Ah yes, James, point taken. Changed to no main party and will update to reference that SGP has had no issue with source of its donations.

  4. Thing is, low circulation figures are one thing, but how many Scots are exposed to the distorted headlines on billboards outside newsagents? At least those who buy the paper get to see that the headline is nonsense. For everyone else, a seed of doubt has been planted…

  5. In the process of writing a comment on James’ piece on Better Nation, I came to the realisation that I favour funding coming in the form that you speak of for the SNP – lots of little donations, forcing the organisers to make do with what they have and ensure every penny counts. I also wonder if the big donations are a double-edged sword – I wonder if I’m the only SNP member who feels less compelled to make those extra donations now that we know they have about £2,000,000 in the bank.

    State funding is not the answer, I feel. Although I believe it works in other countries (Germany for one?), it’s yet another strain on the government’s budget – one they would be unlikely to ever cut. Also, how long before it starts creeping up, because the party in government decides it wants more funding? Most importantly of all, no party has a divine right to existence – if you can’t attract members who are willing to make donations, then you’re obviously not doing a very good job.

    I think parties that rely on small donations are better at remaining grounded, and seem to foster better relations with members. It keeps them feeling like movements, rather than political organisations. Maybe I’m biased, but at the conference it felt like everyone was equal – even ministers were just members like the rest of us.

    (As for the Scotsman – what can we expect? Until press regulation forces newspapers to print the truth at all times, all we can do is try to ignore them.)

    • How about state funding that is limited? I’m not talking huge amounts, and it might just get politicians working for votes in the old fashioned way, rather than letting some overpaid twit of a PR agency come out with total crap like the latest SNP pbp.

      MPs and MSPs get paid a hell of a lot of money with little needed in return to be honest. Let’s get them out reconnecting with the voters.

      • The only state funding I would support would be if it came at the expense of MP/MSP salaries. After all, many people are really voting for the party rather than the person anyway, and maybe it would give politicians a bit more power back against the whips – kicking out an MP/MSP would also mean losing their element of funding.

        But I take it by “old fashioned way” you mean activists going door-to-door? The irony for me there is that this very evening we had our first activists chapping at the door – and they were from the party of that PBP which you (perhaps rightly) deride!

        (And that included the current leader of Aberdeen council, so it’s not just the “grunts” doing the work…)

      • Doug – that is genius! Politicians can make contributions from their salaries – Like Union dues to help promote their parties manifestos! – topped up with donations (capped) To further help them out, they should legislate for a certain amount of free air time or have it sponsered by a donor who is named during the video.

        We could be on to something here.

      • You’re absolutely right James, I am a genius.

        Ahem…

        If parties don’t get free air time already, it seems a bit daft. So yes, things like that would help out. Also, if state funding was used to keep campaigning activities to a sensible level, then that might be a handy side-effect. But still, before we go anywhere near state funding, we need to know how much parties need to survive, what they spend it on, and then we can decide if we think they are worth it or not.

        It also has to be done in a way that people can’t just set up a political party as a way of getting some free money…

      • Doug, tell them to have a wee word in the ears of the SNP group down here in South Lanarkshire!

        I’ll speak to anyone from any party, especially a Lib Dem………….I want to know what their last words will be…….

      • Couldn’t agree more. The money side of politics is a cess pit and I especially agree if they really had to go out and capture real votes they’d have to genuinely connect with the electorate instead of taking us for granted as they do now. And just think, the prospect of more Alistair Campbells, unelected PR people who behave as if they actually run the political Party they work for, vanishes at once! That’s a good thing surely?

  6. “In years of relying utterly on private donations, this is the only episode to blot the SNP’s copybook.”

    Oh. You mean, apart from the half million that Brian Souter paid to ensure the SNP dropped bus deregulation from the 2007 manifesto.

    And the other half million Brian Souter paid to get himself a knighthood.

    And the meetings Alex Salmond’s had with Rupert Murdoch. And the way Donald Trump was allowed to destroy a site of scientific interest in order to build a golf course. Oh yeah. If we don’t count all of those little incidents, the SNP has a really unblotted copybook….

    • First, there have been no donations from Trump or Murdoch so no link there. And see what I wrote below about Souter. You are making unfounded allegations – prove them? Souter had his knighthood before the donation in 2011 but why let facts get in the way?

      • In 2006, the SNP conference agreed to regulate the buses again. A few weeks later, Brian Souter made a donation of £500,000. In the manifesto for the 2007 election, the issue of bus deregulation had been dropped, and has never come back.

        Now, I get that you are an SNP loyalist and don’t want to see anything wrong with that scenario when it’s Brian Souter and the SNP. But this is exactly the sleazy situation the Tories are in with their huge donors and their policies that benefit the very rich. And you clearly see there’s a problem when it’s the Tories doing it. But the problem is not one of a particular party – it’s the behaviour itself: the presumption that if you are rich enough, you can buy the policy you want.

        You can argue that this is just one instance (or two – Brian Souter gave half a million AGAIN to the SNP before the 2011 election, and for all Alex Salmond’s prevaricating, it and, though FOI is denied to the workings of the committee for the awards, what evidence there is suggests that yes, Souter’s name got put forward for a knighthood because the SNP wanted another huge input of cash to fight the 2011 election). You see nothing wrong with honouring an evil man like Souter because he’s got the money and he’s quite prepared to use it to get his way?

        I’m not an SNP loyalist: I’m not a member of any party. One reason I’m not is that as far as I can see, becoming a party member makes you willing to overlook, excuse, and ignore thoroughly despicable behaviour by your own party. And then with that blind spot firmly in place, you ignore the plain facts – the SNP aren’t going to regulate buses, that would be ungrateful to Brian Souter – and try to claim that there’s no evidence. Well, there’s all the evidence I need every time I have to take the train because Stagecoach controls the buses and shuts down unproftable routes.

        What kind of Scotland do you want to live in, Kate? One where Brian Souter buys policy and party loyalists pretend it’s not happening?

      • Personally, I think that all political parties should sell honours, like Lloyd George shamelessly did. The system itself is so sleazy that whether honours are earned or given through patronage, or bought, they have been devalued to the point of absurdity. So if someone wants a knighthood, why not relieve him of half a million, if he is so inclined?

        The reason the establishment got so exercised by the cash for honours affair was that they recognised that it spelled the collapse of whole honours edifice, making way possibly for a meritocracy which would challenge the whole class system.

      • Sion: “Personally, I think that all political parties should sell honours, like Lloyd George shamelessly did. ”

        LOL. In all honesty, the right to call himself “Sir” is probably one of the most harmless things that Brian Souter ever bought for half a million. His work promoting AIDS in Africa – one of the ostensible “good causes” which provided a face-saving excuse to give him the knighthood – is much more damaging.

        My issue here and now about that “Sir” for half a million is not so much the knighthood itself, as the SNP supporters blandly repeating the party line that oh NO, of COURSE the million Souter’s given them had nowt to do with the honour.

    • As Kate says, where’s your proof for any of that? I’m not entirely sure why people keep bringing up Trump, because as far as I’m concerned, he’s proof positive that Salmond is in the pocket of no man. If he was, we would not witness the rather unedifying sight of The Donald in full ranting mode against Salmond doing untold harm to “Scatlind”. Can anyone imagine Cameron or his predecessors doing anything to invoke the wrath of someone like that?

      Murdoch? The man is at war with the British state. I doubt Salmond had to do much persuading to get him to make his titles become independence cheerleaders…

      As for Soutar, people talk about it as if the bus regulation policy was already in the manifesto but got Tipp-Exed out once he waved his wad of cash.The way I understand it, the policy had already been dropped for consideration long before Soutar came along. But hey, it makes a good story, and there’s nothing else to smear the SNP with, so people run with it anyway.The knighthood? The SNP shun the honours system. Nothing to do with them. It’s hardly unusual for a successful businessman to get knighted though, is it? Who did Moir Lockhead pay for his knighthood?

      • I’m not entirely sure why people keep bringing up Trump

        “Trump vowed to build the “best golf course in the world” on the sand dunes near Balmedie. He won permission to build two courses, a hotel, 950 holiday homes, 500 houses and a clubhouse.

        “The scheme was initially rejected by an Aberdeenshire council committee but later approved by the Scottish government”

        That’s why. Salmond cringed to Trump.

      • “That’s why. Salmond cringed to Trump.”

        I’m sorry, but he did no such thing. As hard as it may be to believe now (considering Trump’s successful mission to make himself look like a complete erse and get the whole of “Scatlind” against him), the project was actually very popular around these parts at the time – far more so than the plan to build a new garden in the city centre over UTG. The council only rejected it because the head of the chair of the committee, Martin Ford, used his casting vote to strike it down after the vote went to a deadlock. Such was the unpopularity of his decision, he was absolutely vilified afterwards. So the SNP came in to make sure a big investment opportunity for Aberdeenshire and Scotland didn’t get frittered away.

        The fact is the test of where Salmond’s loyalties lie came when Trump started arguing against a project that was for the benefit of Scotland. Eck has come good. Trump can bleather away all he likes about how noisy windmills are, but he’s nae going to convince Salmond to put his interests ahead of Scotland’s.

    • One for the libel lawyers I think. You do know your ISP can be traced, yeah? How about you take this chance to withdraw your unfounded allegations before you come to regret them?

      • Thanks Don – good to be reminded that SNP loyalists hate free speech.

      • So you think it’s acceptable to make allegations against people without any substantial evidence? That’s your idea of free speech where people should be able to make any kind of accusation that runs up their humpf without consequences?

        I can think of all kinds of allegations I could make up about, for example, Milliband or Call Me Dave. Do you think it acceptable that I should air them too?

      • “So you think it’s acceptable to make allegations against people without any substantial evidence”

        I think it’s unacceptable for you to try to shut down criticism of your own party by threatening me with the police. Kate, do you support this action on Don’s part?

        “I can think of all kinds of allegations I could make up about, for example, Milliband or Call Me Dave. Do you think it acceptable that I should air them too?”

        Interesting question, Don.

        See, there’s no evidence that Rupert Murdoch knew about the phone hacking. None at all. There’s no evidence that David Cameron knew that Tory party fundraisers were offering £250,000 donors dinner with him as part of the package. So tell me, Don – are you going round the web threatening EVERYONE who’s done a CamDineWithMe tweet or tweeted about Murdoch and hackgate with the police and libel action?

        But that’s not really the question. Doubtless if your allegience was Tory you would be ramping up and down the web defending the good name of David Cameron against plebs who dare to criticise him. Because that’s what petty, small-minded, spiteful people do, regardless of their party allegience.

        I’m not interested in you, Don. I want to know what Kate plans to do about this kind of behaviour by an SNP supporter on her blog. Endorse it? Warn you off? Ban you? Question still stands: what kind of Scotland is she for?

      • Both of you need to go away and calm down. Any more threats, or personalisation, and you’ll both find your unmoderated access pulled. Now apologise to each other and agree in future to debate in temperate terms.

        I am not accountable for the comments of other folk but I deplore the bashing going on generally on this. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and entitled to have that respected or at least, tolerated.

        If it was me running the SNP, I wouldn’t have any donations over a certain amount but I’m not.

        I don’t think there is a link between Souter and the issue of re-regulation. It has been sidelined because of complexity and cost and a whole host of other reasons I don’t agree are insurmountable. I support it.

        And for all that there are some objectionable aspects to Brian Souter’s charitable giving, it’s his money, albeit gained through some very rapacious business methods, and he can do with it what he likes. He also happens to support some very good, and sound causes, doing good work here and abroad.

        Not everything nor everyone is as black and white as we sometimes might wish.

      • Sorry Kate, won’t be apologising for giving out a friendly piece of advice. If EdinEye took that as a threat (must be really insecure to do so), then that is his problem. I’m all in favour of free speech but making unfounded allegations is akin to walking onto a busy airplane and shouting “bomb”. That’s why we have laws against both.

      • What you said was unacceptable – you threatened someone while visiting someone else’s blog. To liken someone’s view that there is a link between Souter’s honours, lack of SNP action on re-regulation and his donations to the party to being akin to joke-terrorism is unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to their view – don’t see anything libellous in anything that Edinburgh Eye has suggested. Which doesn’t mean I agree! Sorry, but if you can’t apologise, in future I will have to moderate your comments ie screen before allowing them to be posted.

      • Fine. I apologise to Don for implying that he’s the kind of petty, small-minded, spiteful person who would threaten a critic with libel law.

      • Eh, Kate. If Edinburgh Eye’s view is perfectly acceptable, what exactly is your beef with the Scotsman? Just asking coz the inconsistency has me confused.

  7. A new low for “Scotlands National Newspaper”. Does Kenny Farquharson defend this kind of gutter journalism in his sister newspaper… coming as it does from the bitter politicised editors and journos whom he daily breaks bread with in The Jocksman canteen at Holyrood ?

    • It’s nowt to do with him. He works solely on Scotland on Sunday. The main man I think is John McLellan. Editor of both titles.

      • Fair enough Kate. Although how a (decent at heart bloke I’m sure) like KF can stand the stench from the neighbouring Scotsman sewer is quite beyond me. Both titles share the same political writers and editorial line comes from the top. The Scotsman line these days is beyond all understanding, utterly irrational and sleekit.

      • Think the editorial line on the Scotsman is way worse than SoS. Not that it’s perfect – far from it!! And yes staff are shared but that is necessity rather than choice. Your central point that we need a better or at least fairer, editorial line from one of Scotland’s two broadsheets is a good one.

  8. Adding Salmond into the headline is unforgiveable. There is no excuse and it is a blatant attempt to discredit him.

    As you point out, every political party will do anything to get money, something that makes me strongly in favour of tight regulation and state funding.

    But you cannot have one political party trying to deflect criticism by bringing another one into the fray.

    • If it was solely a bunfight among the political parties that would be ignorable. But it is one of Scotland’s national newspapers trying to smear the party of government in Scotland. Unforgiveable.

      • National newspapers smeared the party of government in the UK right up until May 2010. They continue to smear a range of parties now.

        I think what’s disappointing about this instance is that we all want to think that The Scotsman is a better newspaper than it actually is, because it used to be. But whether a party is in government or not, it has for many years had to put up with smears and outright lies across the partisan press – occasionally followed up by small-print apologies when the lies became unsustainable by force.

        I guess what I’m saying is that I agree this is poor from The Scotsman, but not because the SNP are the party of government or because Salmond is FM – just because it’s poor.

        Bit frisky around here today, what?😉

      • I’d agree with your assessment re the Scotsman. Disappointing all round.

        And yes, too frisky. I’m doing my best to ignore it

  9. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve really warmed to Kenny Farq, and I’ve always liked Joyce, but this is outrageous. Saved under ScumLords to be brought out (or up) again in 2016.

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