ALEX Salmond has been accused of personally pressurising the body that represents Scotland’s financial sector to discourage it from publishing a briefing on independence.
Mr Salmond is reported to have telephoned the chairman of the Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) last November in an attempt to persuade him to drop the report.
The First Minister was accused of presiding over a “culture of intimidation” and of leaning on bodies such as SFE by opposition politicians.
MR Salmond has already faced claims that he attempted to “intimidate” the leader of Scotland’s fishermen - Bertie Armstrong - after he challenged the SNP leader about the possible consequences of independence.
Former Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) boss Gavin Hewitt also claimed that SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson attempted to “neuter” business opinion, with firms fearing they could face “retribution down the track”.
Owen Kelly, Scottish Financial Enterprise chief executive, confirmed ministers had contacted officials from the body during the last few months.
He said: “SFE is neutral on the referendum question and some find this difficult to accept.
“It should be perfectly acceptable to express no view on how people should vote; but to seek nonetheless to understand the consequences of the 2 possible outcomes of the referendum and to share that understanding publicly. That is the course we have followed.”
“Ministers in the Scottish Government made calls to some of our members and to our chairman, as they are entitled to do – it would be odd for Ministers not to speak to senior figures in our industry and we welcome contacts at this level.
“These calls were intended to discourage SFE from commenting on the independence question but our position was explained and the world moved on.
“Various lines were briefed to the media about our organisation and its staff at the time the document was published which is disappointing, but these were dealt with.”
Liberal Democrat Peer Jeremy Purvis said: “We knew Ministers and figures within the First Minister’s office have been quick to lean on businesses, professors and other groups that do not share their constitutional views. These latest revelations paint a picture of a culture of intimidation that goes right to the top of the SNP.”
A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: “The First Minister speaks to board members of Scottish Financial Enterprise on a very regular basis, not least because he co-chairs the financial sector advisory body FISAB – and as SFE’s own chief executive has said, it would be ‘odd’ for ministers not to speak to senior figures in the industry.”