Scotland politics

Scottish group fined over donations to Tories

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Image caption The Electoral Commission said it was "disappointing" that donations had not been properly reported

A Scottish group which gave money to the Conservative Party has been fined £1,800 by the Electoral Commission for not reporting donations properly.

The Scottish Unionist Association Trust gave hundreds of thousands of pounds to the party over a period of 17 years.

These donations were reported by the Conservatives, but a probe found SUAT "consistently failed to provide proper notification" to the election watchdog.

The group has accepted the Commission's findings and paid the fines.

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

A former Conservative MP and trustee of the group told BBC Scotland that the money was "historic proceeds of tombolas and raffles going back 50 years", which had been invested and made available "on a semi-regular basis to the [Tory] party's campaigns".

The Electoral Commission counts the group as an "unincorporated association", meaning all political donations of more than £25,000 have to be flagged up to the watchdog within 30 days.

However it was found to have made donations exceeding this amount in 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2017 without notifying the Commission within the required time limit.

'Public transparency'

After a lengthy investigation, the Commission concluded that the the group was a "permissible donor", and that donations had been "properly reported" by the Conservatives - but said SUAT had "failed to provide accurate reports on time".

The group also failed to report some donations it had received itself, including one of £50,000 in February 2014 and another of more than £157,000 in March 2017.

Louise Edwards, director of regulation at the Electoral Commission, said it was "always disappointing" when the "clear" rules for associations were broken.

She said: "Properly, SUAT's donations to the Conservative and Unionist Party were reported by that party and published so the public could see them.

"But SUAT consistently failed to provide proper notification of its activities as an unincorporated association and as a members association. As a result, the public did not have the transparency it was entitled to have of SUAT's finances."

SNP MP Pete Wishart said the report was a "damning indictment by the electoral watchdog" and said "we need to know that this will not happen again and that all further donations will be legal and transparent".

And the Scottish Greens said it was "frustrating" that the total fines levied were "just a small fraction of the money actually funnelled through SUAT".

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