Fury at Brian Souter's £½m SNP election pledge

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A NEW £500,000 donation from bus tycoon Brian Souter to the SNP has prompted questions over his growing influence over Alex Salmond's government.

It was revealed yesterday that Mr Souter will match each pound from small donations up to half a million pounds by the end of March, as part of an attempt to secure 1 million for the Holyrood election on 5 May.

The SNP hopes that Mr Souter's money will help it break the million-pound target for a second time, after the party outspent all its rivals in its successful 2007 campaign.

However, Labour and the Greens both attacked the donation last night, insisting it could give the co-founder of Stagecoach undue influence over Scottish Government policy.

Labour claims the SNP changed its policy on bus regulation after Mr Souter's previous donation in 2007, while the Greens say his views on homosexuality - he led a campaign in 2000 to retain Clause 2A, which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality - make him an unsuitable backer for the Nationalists.

John Park, Scottish Labour's election co-ordinator, said: "This donation will damage the SNP as much as help them.

"Last time the SNP accepted his millions, they scrapped plans to help bus passengers at the expense of companies like his. As a result, thousands of Scots have been denied the bus service they deserve, and under the SNP nothing will change.

"The SNP must now explain why they dropped their bus policy days after getting this donation in 2007, and what they have promised now."

The Scottish Greens condemned the SNP for accepting another cash injection from Mr Souter.

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Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie said: "It's no wonder that this economically and socially conservative administration has such appeal for a millionaire with attitudes to gay Scots which should have gone out with John Knox.

"The message this sends out is that the SNP is for sale to the highest bidder, and it's no surprise that the same day they unveiled this donation they're also on the record opposing equal marriage. Last time he gave them this much money, a long-standing commitment to improve bus services mysteriously disappeared from the SNP manifesto. I wonder what he wants this time."

The Glasgow MSP, who is openly gay himself, added: "The campaign against Souter's bigoted agenda inspired me to get into politics, and any principled party would have told him where to stuff his money. This isn't America, though, where elections can be bought and sold."Announcing his donation, Mr Souter said: "I believe Alex deserves another kick of the ball, and as we face challenging times we need the type of strong leadership he has demonstrated." A spokesman for Mr Souter refused to comment, however, on claims that he may be influencing government policy.

First Minister Mr Salmond welcomed Mr Souter's renewed support for the SNP, saying: "Brian Souter is one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of his generation, with a passionate belief in Scotland.

"This offer to match every small donation the SNP receives up to 500,000 will power our fund-raising for this campaign, and double the impact of every penny put toward re-electing an SNP government in May."

Stagecoach chief executive Mr Souter formed the transport firm with sister Ann Gloag. Their joint wealth was put at 610m in 2010.