THE Better Together campaign group has benefited from a late surge in donations, receiving around £4.1 million over the past six months, new figures have revealed.
A flurry of donations to the No side, including several from prominent landowners, has boosted its campaign war-chest dramatically.
The Earl of Seafield, Buccleuch Estates and the hugely wealthy banker Bruno Schroder are among those to have given sums to the Alistair Darling-led campaign.
The Electoral Commission revealed yesterday that Better Together had received £2,406,475 in donations over £7,500 over the past six months.
Under electoral law, both sides are obliged to register donations of more than £7,500 with the commission, which acts as the watchdog for the referendum.
On top of the £2,406,475 recorded by the commission, Better Together said it had received a further £1.6m in donations which did not reach the £7,500 threshold.
According to the Electoral Commission the amount given to Yes Scotland since December in donations over £7,500 came to £1,160,000, a figure dominated by the £1m given by Euromillions Lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir.
Figures for donations under £7,500 are not available, but by way of indication, it has raised almost £200,000 since May in smaller donations.
Last night, Yes Scotland sources privately conceded that Better Together had now raised substantially more cash than their campaign for independence.
Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said he was “humbled” by the amount of money raised.
Yes Scotland chief Blair Jenkins said the opposing campaign was being “funded largely by wealthy landowners, bankers and rich Tories, many of whom live outwith Scotland”.
New figures released yesterday contrast with the concern expressed by No campaigners earlier this year when it was felt they were being heavily outspent by Yes Scotland, which has benefited from the largesse of Mr and Mrs Weir.
The state of campaigns’ finances came to light when the Electoral Commission released details of all donations of over £7,500 received by both sides since December last year.
The Electoral Commission register also revealed the Stagecoach entrepreneur Sir Brian Souter gave £100,000 to the independence-supporting Business for Scotland organisation.
The sum comes on top of the £100,000 that the church-going businessman had already given to Christians for Scotland.
Among the landowning donors to No were: Buccleuch Estates (£25,000); Ardverikie Estate, where Monarch of the Glen was filmed (£10,000); and Reid-haven Trust Estate (£20,000). The Reidhaven Trust is linked to Seafield Estates, where the head of the family, the Earl of Seafield, gave a further £100,000 to Better Together.
A total of £100,000 was given by Flowidea Limited, controlled by the reclusive millionaire stockbroker Henry Angest, who contributed money to Murdo Fraser’s unsuccessful campaign for the Scottish Conservative leadership in 2011.
Mr Schroder, the owner of Shroder private bank and the owner of an estate on Islay, gave £30,000. Another high-profile No donor was the whisky company William Grant & Sons Ltd (£135,000).
The commission’s register of donors confirmed JK Rowling’s £1m donation to the No side and revealed that another high-profile author has helped Better Together financially.
CJ Sansom, the writer of the best-selling thriller Dominion, has given £200,000 to Better Together over the last six months.
Better Together sources believe they have raised £6.9m since June 2012. The Scotsman understands that, over the same period, the total raised by Yes Scotland is around £2m less.
Two months ago, Yes Scotland said it had raised £2.67m since April 2013 in donations over £7,500. In addition, more than 11,000 people had made smaller donations totalling £473,000.
Since May, Yes Scotland’s coffers have been boosted by some 10,705 people, who have given £194,173 in smaller donations.
Since the end of May, the referendum campaign has been in its 16-week spending period, during which Better Together and Yes Scotland are limited to shelling out £1.5m each on campaigning.
The limit applies to advertising, leafleting and office expenditure – meaning that money in excess of the limit can be spent on staff costs. Better Together is now employing 40 people to help in their bid to prevent independence.
Last night Mr McDougall said: “We are humbled by the level of financial support that our campaign has been able to attract. The figures released today do not paint the full picture of the generosity of the thousands of Scots who have made a contribution towards keeping Scotland in the UK.
“In addition to the bigger donations of £2.4m reported today, we are proud to have raised an additional £1.6m in smaller donations.”
Mr McDougall also claimed that the Yes movement was setting up front organisations like Business for Scotland to “funnel” cash, an allegation that has been denied by Yes Scotland.
He said: “Nobody can credibly believe that Yes Scotland and Business for Scotland do not meet the legal definition of ‘working together’. All the signs are that the Nationalists intend to break the Electoral Commission rules on spending and working to a common plan.”
The Electoral Commission has already investigated a complaint into Yes Scotland on allegations of that nature and found that no action needed to be taken.
Mr Jenkins, the Yes Scotland chief executive, said Better Together’s allegations were false and completely unsubstantiated.
He said: “Yes Scotland has followed the Electoral Commission rules from day one and continues to do so.”