ALEX Salmond has called on the Better Together campaign to return a £500,000 donation that was designed to help secure a No vote in next year’s independence referendum.
The First Minister said the money, offered by Ian Taylor, chief executive of oil trading firm Vitol, should be handed back because of the controversy over some of the company’s past business dealings.
Better Together said the sum was a “valid donation” that would be retained.
Vitol was heavily fined in 2007 by a New York court after admitting to making payments to the national oil company in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which were outside the UN’s oil for food programme. The company is reported to have paid £650,000 to the notorious Serbian paramilitary Arkan as part of an oil deal in the 1990s.
Mr Salmond said: “The problem is the range of activities which is suggested that the company have been involved in.
“I think the Better Together campaign should examine this and return the money in the same way as the Labour Party argued that the Conservatives should return the money when a donation was made to them.”
Labour MSP Elaine Smith said that while she had not studied details of the donation it should be “closely looked at”.
She said: “I think if there’s anything suspicious in any way at all about donations then of course they should be handed back”.
Better Together campaign director Jackie Baillie MSP said she did not have a problem accepting Mr Taylor’s money.
“This is a valuable donation which we will put to good use,” she said. Ms Baillie also pointed out that Mr Taylor had made important investments in the Harris tweed industry on the Western Isles, a constituency represented at Holyrood and Westminster by the SNP.
“Is the First Minister equally suggesting that Mr Taylor should disinvest from Harris tweed?” she said. “I don’t think he’s said that today.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also defended the use of Mr Taylor’s money: “If it’s good enough for Harris tweed, it should be good enough for Better Together.”