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The fine art of smearing

Posted on March 28, 2012 by

As the fallout from Cruddasgate continues, it's instructive to watch the attempts of both the Unionist parties and the media to drag the SNP through the mud along with the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems. The print and online media have both had a stab today, with the Telegraph running a lengthy piece about Alex Salmond inviting lottery winners Chris and Colin Weir for a cup of tea at Bute House before they made a £1m donation to the SNP, and the Caledonian Mercury picking up the same story as part of a Hamish Macdonell op-ed.

The latter is the more interesting, on account of a couple of somewhat contradictory paragraphs in it. About halfway down the column, Macdonell makes this assertion:

"The issue here is not the money or where it comes from. The issue here is the nature of what is being promised by the parties in return for these donations."

And it's a very fair point. Nobody sensible is objecting to people giving money to political parties in itself. Donations are absolutely vital to the continued functioning of our political system as it stands. There are (deeply unpopular) arguments to be made about changing that system to one of public funding, and there are arguments against having political parties (rather than individual members) at all, but neither scenario is currently the case, so parties need donations. Nothing wrong with that.

As Macdonell correctly points out, the issue is whether those donations are being used to influence policy in favour of vested (usually commercial) interests. But if that's the case, what are the Weirs doing in the story? Macdonell's demand that:

"If the UK’s most successful lottery winners are invited in for tea with the first minister before offering the SNP a huge donation, that should be declared."

…makes no sense in the stated context of influence being the issue. There's no suggestion that the Weirs sought to influence any SNP policy. As former SNP activists it's probably fair to assume that they already support most of the party's aims, and it's hard to see what benefit they could possibly be seeking in return, being as they're already sitting on a bank account with 160 million quid in it.

We have no argument with the broad thrust of the CalMerc piece. We're all in favour of transparency when it comes to donations. But then, the SNP made no secret of the Weirs' donation – indeed, it'd be fair to say they shouted it from the rooftops. So whether the First Minister entertained them to a cuppa and a Caramel Wafer beforehand is neither here nor there. Actively soliciting contributions is not in itself the slightest bit underhand – every party does it openly every day.

The Weirs have no place in any story about dodgy donations. They are not a business, and are not seeking favours in return for their money. They are Scottish citizens and residents, not foreigners prohibited by law from giving money to politicial parties. And the First Minister, it seems, actively sought them out, rather than them paying for access to him in order to lobby the Scottish Government for their own ends.

But just as with the expenses scandal, the forces of Unionism will not be dissuaded by such trivialities as the relevant facts as they try to haul the SNP into the pit of sleaze alongside the London parties. As ever, we recommend reading the pro-Union press – if you must read it at all – through a very long lens.

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10 to “The fine art of smearing”

  1. Doug Daniel

    This is beyond a joke, it really is. The capacity for some people to spin things out of all touch with reality apparently knows no bounds. I mean, seriously, the Telegraph article even mentions that he stood as an SNP candidate in the 80s! So how do they reach the conclusion that there is something dodgy going on?!
    As I've said on Hamish's article, there is one thing Salmond will have promised the Weirs, and it will be the thing they crave the most – INDEPENDENCE.
    Hamish is a joke of a journalist. My readership of the Cal Merc didn't last very long precisely because of the bizarre spin he would put on stories. He probably has "YOONYUNIST TIL I DYE" scrawled on his chest.
    Why are the media allowed to get away with this sort of blatant distortion of fact?

  2. Doug Daniel

    And we're still waiting for the evidence of shenanigans in relation to Soutar's first donation. Yes, it looks a bit convenient, but the reality is by the time he made his donation (halfway through March), the manifesto (out in April) would have been written. If Soutar was a known unionist, or had no history of supporting the SNP, then there might be a story; but the fact is the man is a prominent supporter of independence, and has since made more donations.
    These guys are journalists, so why don't they do their jobs and find the proof that Soutar's donation did indeed lead directly to the dropping of bus regulation from the manifesto commitments? Or are we to take their actions – resorting to cheap smears like activists from opposition parties – as proof that there IS no evidence?

  3. RevStu

    I think the gay-marriage consultation, and the SNP's public expression of their support as a party for it, is as conclusive proof as you could ever need that Souter doesn't shape party policy. He could easily have made quietly kicking it into the long grass a condition of his big donation in 2010, and nobody would have made much of a fuss if they had, but introducing it was one of the very first things the majority government did.

  4. Doug Daniel

    Exactly. It's like when people bring up Trump and accuse Salmond of being in his pocket because the SNP stopped Aberdeenshire council from throwing away a big opportunity because of a split vote. It just doesn't fit with the fact that Salmond is currently Trump's number one enemy because he's putting Scotland's interests first, as he always does.
    It's amazing how some peple can confidently join the dots between A and C without any knowledge of B, but struggle to join the dots between A and B.

  5. Longshanker


    Whether best for Scotland or not, trumping local democracy decisions to accommodate megalomaniacal millionaires does not look or seem very good.

    It's centrist, an abuse of power and so like Tory tactics it stinks. And of course, like a few other incidents of note, it backfired spectacularly publicly. Again, doesn't look or feel good.

    As for cash for access, there is form in the SNP timeline other than the straw grasping lottery winners story.

    Apologies for the link RevStu, but seeing as it's bang on topic I beg your indulgence

  6. Christian Wright

    I wonder if the author of the Mercury article has considered his defamation of the Weir's leaves him and his publisher vulnerable to a civil suit for libel, in that he deliberately, knowingly, and falsely, sought to impugn the reputation of the Weirs by implying that their donation to the SNP was a matter of quid pro quo for some government favor or benefit?
    Has he considered the anguish he has caused the Weir's by this defamatory statements?

  7. Erchie

    My first experience of MacDonell was him being drafted into cover for Purcell along with Lorraine Davidson on GMS's infamous "nothing to see here" broadcast
    Last time I bothered with him is when he filled in on the CalMer  Diary slagging off John Swinney for calling financier David Blanchflower 'Danny'
    Took me 5seconds to find articles talking about David 'Danny' Blanchflower. Got that article pulled, but no apology.
    MacDonell is a partisan hack. He'd be better of employed at the BBC

  8. charlie

    Re Cruddasgate the prime minister said: “This is not the way that we raise money in the Conservative Party, it shouldn’t have happened.”
    His father Geppetto sais “his nose looks bigger these days”

    walt disnae

  9. TYRAN

    Cal Merc. I forgot all about that place. I like checking back here instead. OT: I spotted these new ones online over the last day. Thought I would share.!/nationalopinion!/RadioFreeScot

  10. Christian Wright

    So the details of conspiracy to libel the Weir's is beginning to come out.
    This from news net Scotland
    ". .  the Labour party were initially reluctant to pursue the tea-party story believing it to be too petty.   However, according to a respected source, Johann Lamont’s group were persuaded by the Daily Telegraph newspaper to issue a complaint.
    According to journalists at the Holyrood Press Tower, the Telegraph was desperate to keep the story going and a complaint from Labour would allow this.
    The ‘tea bag’ complaint, which is thought to be an attempt at diverting attention from the scandal over the Tory party’s ‘cash for access’ revelations, has been covered widely by many Scottish main stream news outlets including the BBC and STV.
    The Telegraph’s desire to divert attention from the Tory ‘cash for access’ scandal may be explained by the revelation that one of those who attended a ‘thank you’ dinner for major donors hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2010 was the Chief Executive of the Telegraph group Murdoch Maclennan."

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