Sturgeon facing claims SNP ignored election cash rules

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Nicola Sturgeon is under mounting pressure over claims the SNP administration attempted to influence voters by ignoring rules around government cash announcements in the run up to the local election.

Ms Sturgeon’s opponents have accused the Scottish Government of using public money to “win” votes.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon voting in Broomhouse Community Hall, Glasgow, with her husband Peter Murrell. Picture: PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon voting in Broomhouse Community Hall, Glasgow, with her husband Peter Murrell. Picture: PA

Earlier this week it emerged that the Scottish Government announced a £8.35m cash injection for urban regeneration in Glasgow less than 48 hours before the polls opened for the council elections.

As the public cast their votes in the local election yesterday, the Conservatives drew attention to two more announcements made less than ten days before polling day.

Nine days ago, the Scottish Government announced more than £948,000 to help crofters in rural areas benefit from better housing. The cash is to be shared between 29 crofters.

Shortly afterwards, £1m from a EU fund, administered by the Scottish Government directorate Marine Scotland, was announced for the seafood industry.

Ruth Davidson arrives to vote in Edinburgh at the local authority elections, which saw her party increase its number of first preference votes and total number of councillors. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL

Ruth Davidson arrives to vote in Edinburgh at the local authority elections, which saw her party increase its number of first preference votes and total number of councillors. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL

The boost came the day after the SNP was involved in a row over the party’s position on fishing. Two SNP politicians –Mike Weir, the Angus MP and party’s chief whip, and Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford – backed a campaign to keep the country free of Common Fisheries Policy rules, a cornerstone of Brussels rules. They backed the campaign despite the SNP wanting an independent Scotland to be part of the EU.

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Guidelines for civil servants, bound by rules on impartiality, state they must ensure public cash is not used for party political purposes. Particular care must be taken in the weeks ahead of an election – a period known as purdah.

The Conservatives wrote to Scotland’s most senior civil servant Leslie Evans to demand an investigation following the £8.35m announcement for Glasgow.

Conservative MSP and candidate for Aberdeen South Ross Thomson said: “We need a full investigation into how decisions were taken, when, and by whom – and why the impartial civil service supported these announcements during an election period and in apparent contravention of their own guidance.

“There are clear rules on how government should behave in the run-up to an election. It looks to many voters that the only rule the SNP has followed is how best to use taxpayers’ cash to win votes.”

He added: “It stinks to high heaven – and we need to see some clarity from the First Minister now.”​

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish Government business continues throughout the local government election period. Ministers and officials continue to carry out their functions in the usual way. The pre-election guidance does, however, require officials to take ‘particular care’ about announcements with a specific emphasis on matters which could have a bearing on local election campaigns. There is no automatic requirement to defer an announcement and officials are required to consider each case on its merits.

“We understand there is discussion on other specific instances but we are not in receipt of any complaints. However these instances represented legitimate government activity.”

An SNP spokeswoman said: “This is really desperate stuff from the Tories who seem to think the entire business of government needs to shut down for every single election.”

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