SCOTTISH Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has come under pressure to hand back a £100,000 donation from a controversial businessman who has links with a Serbian war criminal.
The SNP claimed that the donation from Ian Taylor, the chief executive of oil company Vitol, put Davidson’s judgment into question.
The donation, revealed last week, is part of what the Scottish Tories expect to be a record £1.2 million war chest for next year’s election.
Taylor became a controversial figure after he donated £500,000 to Better Together during the independence referendum.
The SNP said that Taylor’s company’s track record involved controversial deals in Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Libya – including Vitol giving notorious Serb warlord Arkan $1m.
It was also reported that Vitol was “in talks” with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) “over a tax-avoidance bill”. The talks were “to settle a claim for millions of pounds in taxes its senior staff avoided through an offshore pay scheme”.
Another report claimed that Taylor’s company is “one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders” – paying barely 10 per cent tax on profits of nearly £9 billion.
Alison Dickie, the SNP’s candidate for Edinburgh Central in next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, has said that the Scottish Tory leader must return the funds. Dickie said: “For Ruth Davidson’s party to have accepted a donation from Ian Taylor is a disgrace; it raises serious questions about the Tory leader in Scotland’s judgment.
“The No campaign accepted money from him despite deeply worrying issues over his business links, and it does the Scottish Tories no credit whatsoever if they think they can now take a similar donation and avoid scrutiny. The Tories should do the right thing and hand the money back – there can be no excuses for keeping it.”
However, the Conservatives pointed out that the SNP lauded Taylor when he helped support a charity in 2009 and 2010. Taylor gave a total of £50,000 to Sistema Scotland, the Stirling charity which teaches music to children in disadvantaged areas. The money helped run its “Big Noise” orchestra in Raploch.
At the time, SNP culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said that the charity was “a fantastic example of how cultural activity can deliver real benefits to individuals, communities and wider society”, while the then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “transforming lives through music”.
A Scottish Tory source said: “The SNP were lauding Ian Taylor before he supported Better Together. They changed their view of him after that.”