The cronyism row over a Scottish Government donation of £150,000 to T in the Park has intensified with former SNP leader Gordon Wilson criticising the role played by a former SNP adviser in securing the grant.
Mr Wilson claimed Jennifer Dempsie, a former Scottish Government adviser and the partner of SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, has “personally lost credibility” over the issue.
The former SNP leader said the Scottish Government should toughen its stance on lobbyists after it emerged that Ms Dempsie set up a key meeting between the festival’s organisers and the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop when she was working for the promoters DF Concerts.
Ms Dempsie was a project manager for promoters DF Concerts when she brokered the initial meeting between T in the Park and DF Concerts boss Geoff Ellis and the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop to discuss the funding.
The talks held on 28 May shortly after Ms Dempsie had left DF Concerts. The discussions led to the minister signing off an “ad hoc state aid” package for the festival on 2 July, eight days before it began.
Ms Dempsie was a special adviser to Alex Salmond from 2007 to 2009, then worked for the SNP for four years before starting work as a public relations consultant.
The grant was agreed as support for the festival’s relocation from its traditional home in Balado in Perth and Kinross following environmental concerns, to Strathallan Castle.
Mr Wilson said Ms Dempsie, who has ambitions to be a SNP candidate at next year’s Scottish elections, should explain herself to the SNP’s National Executive Committee.
Mr Wilson, who led the SNP between 1979 to 1990, said: “A Party’s reputation is more easily lost than gained. The Jennifer Dempsie case serves as a useful lesson. The SNP should toughen up on relationships of Ministers, MSPs, MPs and MEPs with all lobbyists, regardless of their affiliations. This is all the more important given the new prominence of the Party at Holyrood and Westminster and its access to patronage. The Party’s Code of Conduct should be reviewed at the highest level.
“As for Jennifer Dempsie, she has personally lost credibility. The National Executive Committee has power to refer back candidates for re-interview by its Election Committee without prejudice. The reputation of the Party is more important than the ambitions of an individual. But this is in her interests as much as those of the Party as it will allow her to state her case.
“It will also be a warning to all candidates and others holding public posts that only the highest standards will be tolerated by the Party.
“As for the grant to T in the Park, the Finance Secretary should warn all ministers and the civil service that we live in an age of austerity when the criteria for spending public money should be stringent.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “Although Gordon Wilson is right about credibility that is not what concerns me most. It is the allegations of the friends of ministers securing handouts for their clients in an inappropriate manner. Cronyism degrades integrity in government which is why this must be investigated.
“That is why we need all of the facts over how and why this state aid was granted by the SNP Government to T in the Park. Businesses need assurances that these funds are granted on what you do, not who you know.
“The government should publish the full justification for this financial support. This should include the economic assessment that must have been conducted.
“The Scottish Government has serious questions to answers if people are to have confidence in the system.”
The Scottish Government were asked to respond fo Mr Wilson’s comments, but referred the matter to the SNP.
A SNP spokesman said: “There is nothing relevant to candidate assessment in any of the issues raised by Mr Wilson. Ms Dempsie is seeking nomination for the Highlands and Islands regional list, but is not at the moment a parliamentary candidate.”