Scotland politics

Former Scottish Conservative MP dismisses 'dark money' claims

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A former Conservative MP has insisted there is "no secrecy" around donations to the party after accusations of so-called dark money.

The elections watchdog is currently investigating whether cash from the Scottish Unionist Association Trust (SUAT) complied with rules.

Ex-MP Peter Duncan, who resigned as an SUAT trustee 10 days ago, denied the group was trying to evade scrutiny.

He said: "I remain satisfied that the trust is a permissible donor."

An investigation by the Ferret website previously found that the SUAT donated £318,876 to the Conservatives between April 2001 and February 2018.

That led to claims that Mr Duncan had a conflict of interests as both a trustee and a political lobbyist.

Ferret journalist Rob Edwards said it was "very interesting" that Mr Duncan had decided to leave the trust on the same day the claims were made.

But Mr Duncan told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The suggestion that this is in some way dark money is a bit like suggesting the WI is some KGB-front organisation.

"This is historic proceeds of tombolas and raffles throughout the west of Scotland going back 50 years.

"They were transferred into a trust with the express purpose, not of spending it, but actually investing it long-term. And that's what the trust has done since about the time I was born.

"It has invested that money with the objective of growing its capital base and making some of the proceeds available on a semi-regular basis to the party's campaigns.

"I was satisfied, and remain satisfied, that the trust is a permissible donor and that this is in no way dark money."

'Shielding donations'

The Scottish Tories have previously said the party "always works closely with the Electoral Commission on the permissibility of donors".

The Ferret investigation found that the SUAT donated £318,876 to the party between April 2001 and February 2018.

Under Electoral Commission rules, groups which make political contributions of more than £25,000 have to register with the watchdog, and report any donations in excess of £7,500.

Ferret journalist Rob Edwards told BBC Scotland that the overall issue regarding Mr Duncan and, more broadly, the SUAT was about "transparency".

He said: "I notice he said he felt it was necessary to have more separation between his roles as a lobbyist and a trustee.

"I think the overall issue is about transparency and openness of process and it's very gratifying that in the wake of the Ferret investigation and concerns raised by others that we are getting more transparency about how the Scottish Conservatives get some of their money."

The SUAT is not listed as an "unincorporated association" on the Electoral Commission's register, and the Commission said it was investigating whether the trust had "complied with their reporting requirements as set out in law".

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford challenged Theresa May at Prime Minister's Questions earlier this month to investigate donations to the Scottish Conservatives.

He claimed the Tories were "systematically shielding their donations" from view.

But Mrs May insisted that all donations to her party were "accepted and declared in accordance with the law".