THE SNP has been accused of providing one of its most high-profile celebrity supporters with "Scottish Government kickbacks" worth almost £10,000.
The money was paid to the singer- songwriter Sandi Thom as expenses for gigs she performed for the Scottish Government in 2007 and 2008. This included a flat-rate fee of 3,000 for a St Andrews Day event in 2007.
In 2008, the Scottish Government paid a 860 hotel bill and 581.75 for breakfast and refreshments when she performed for another St Andrews event in West Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh.
Flights for Ms Thom, her band and tour manager cost another 1,440.53, while she also received 404 for car hire and there was an agency fee of 750.
At the launch of the First Minister's Christmas card at Duff House in Aberdeenshire, she was paid an agency fee of 1,000 and transport costs of 1,478.30.
The information was revealed in a Scottish Government written answer to Labour delivered three months late. Scottish Parliament rules says answers should be given within 20 days. The answer also did not include Thom's expenses for 2009. These include being flown to Ayr for a Burns Night supper and being jetted to Washington DC to perform at a Scottish Government event close to the time of Barack Obama's inauguration.
Ms Thom, who is from Banff, in the Westminster constituency of Alex Salmond, has been a high-profile supporter of the SNP and appeared on its 2007 election literature in a letter aimed at young voters. She also sang a duet of the song Caledonia with Mr Salmond at the beginning of her Homecoming tour this year, and the tour itself was promoted to SNP members in an e-mail from the party chairman Peter Murrell, the partner of Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy leader.
John Robertson, the Labour Glasgow North West MP, said: "These lavish expenses are kickbacks for helping the SNP election campaign. This stinks." He added that the SNP could not afford to "fritter away 500 on an expensive hotel" when it has cut 1,000 teachers in the past year. The political storm has also led to accusations that the SNP is creating a culture of ministerial patronage in Scotland.
Ted Brocklebank, the Conservatives' culture spokesman, said: "Being Alex Salmond's favourite singer brings considerable perks, all at the taxpayers' expense." Mike Rumbles, Liberal Democrat chief whip, added: "Mr Salmond, in particular, is quite keen on spending taxpayers' money to subsidise the SNP's agenda. This looks like an example of this."
But the accusations have provoked an angry reaction from the singer herself, who has told The Scotsman that she has not benefited financially from any of the events. She also claims that she has been politically misunderstood.
"I think Alex Salmond is a great guy and a fantastic leader. But that does not mean that I agree with everything the SNP say and do," she said. "Personally, I think people in Scotland should be allowed to decide for themselves and if they want independence that is the right thing and if they want to stay as part of Britain then that will be the right thing because it will be the democratic will."
She went on to say that she was willing to publicise her accounts to prove she had not made money out of the ventures.
She said that "500 for breakfast may seem a lot, but when you are feeding six, seven, eight people from my band and my manager, then it builds up".
A spokesman for the First Minister denied that Ms Thom had received any performance fees, adding:
"For any Labour MP to raise the issue of expenses is absurd and the height of hypocrisy – these expenses would barely keep them in their second homes for a week."