Nicola Sturgeon urged to break silence over SNP 'cash for votes' allegations

Simon Johnson
First Minister and SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon arrives at Broomhouse Community Hall polling station in Glasgow to cast her vote for the local council elections - PA

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to break her silence over accusations her government used public money to try and win votes as more allegations emerged.

The Scottish Conservatives said there was a “cash for votes” scandal swirling round the First Minister following a series of Scottish Government funding announcements that have coincided with campaigning for the local government and general elections.

They said the sums were awarded in “apparent contravention” of civil service guidance warning that “particular care” must be taken over such announcements in the three weeks before polling day.

Ross Thomson, a Tory MSP, wrote on Wednesday to Ms Sturgeon’s most senior mandarin demanding an investigation into a possible breach of purdah rules but the First Minister is yet to say anything about the accusations.

Among the latest examples to emerge was almost £1 million for crofters in Scotland’s most rural communities handed over on April 25. This was welcomed by Gail Ross, the SNP MSP for Caithness, as a “fantastic resource for crofters”.

The following day a further £1 million of EU money was passed onto industry group Seafood Scotland. Mike Russell, the SNP’s Brexit Minister, said it was an example of “why EU funding is so important.”

However, it emerged amid a controversy over two SNP MPs whose seats are being targeted by the Tories in the general election signing a pledge welcoming the opportunities that Brexit provides the fishing industry and promising to oppose re-entering the Common Fisheries Policy.

The following day, only eight days before the council elections, Keith Brown, the Economy Minister, published a “progress report” on the Scottish Government’s infrastructure blueprint that included £1.3 billion of spending for North East.

The row initially erupted after Kevin Stewart, the Housing Minister, announced more than £8 million for Glasgow on Tuesday to provide “high-quality office space and hundreds of jobs in the city centre.”

Ms Sturgeon made winning control of Glasgow City Council a priority for the Nationalists in Thursday's local authority elections and they are expected to oust Labour when the results are announced on Friday afternoon.

Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell arrive to vote in local elections at a polling station in Glasgow Credit: Reuters

The First Minister last week accused the Tories of trying to buy the 2015 general election through illegal campaign spending.

But Mr Thomson, who is the Conservatives’ general election candidate for Aberdeen South, said: “This has been a damning 24 hours of silence from Nicola Sturgeon. She needs to come out of hiding and explain the actions of her government.

“On her watch, ministers have been announcing government funding and promoting government investment in communities where her party is campaigning in vital local and UK-wide elections.”

Calling for a “full investigation into how decisions were taken, when, and by whom”, he said: “It looks to many voters that the only rule the SNP has followed is how best to use taxpayers’ cash to win votes. It stinks to high heaven – and we need to see some clarity from the First Minister now.”​

The Scottish Government has said Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, will respond “in due course” to Mr Thomson’s letter about the Glasgow funding.

But an SNP spokesman said: “This is really desperate stuff from the Tories who seem to think the entire business of government needs to shut down for every single election.

“However, we thank the Tories for highlighting numerous examples of how the SNP Government is working tirelessly to support Scotland’s economy and in particular our rural economy – a task which is even more crucial in the face of the Tory hard Brexit.”

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