Salmond 'deceit' over knighthood for Brian Souter
ALEX Salmond has been accused of trying to "deceive" the public about his role in the controversial decision to hand a knighthood to the SNP's biggest donor, Stagecoach owner Sir Brian Souter.
The Scotsman has obtained a copy of a letter the First Minister sent to a Labour MP saying the "recommendation process" for honours in Scotland is "dealt with by the UK government".
However, the UK Cabinet Office has since confirmed that the nomination of the then Mr Souter, who has given more than 1 million to the SNP, including a 500,000 pledge for this year's election campaign, "came from the Scottish Government".
The revelations came as an official complaint was made about the First Minister's closest political adviser's role in the row.
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said Mr Salmond's letter to Jim Sheridan MP showed he had told "outright falsehoods" in denying his involvement in securing the bus tycoon's knighthood.
He said the First Minister was "at the heart of the escalating scandal" over the honour for Sir Brian, who previously helped to bankroll the 2000 campaign in to keep Section 28 - the law that banned local councils from "promoting" homosexuality.
• David Maddox: SNP must be more transparent over Souter's knighthood
The First Minister's letter to Mr Sheridan said: "The recommendation process and award of UK national honours is dealt with by the UK government. Scottish ministers are not involved in the process at any stage."
Mr Gray said: "This letter places the First Minister at the heart of the escalating scandal. Alex Salmond claims the Scottish Government was not involved in the recommendation of this honour, even though we now know the Scottish Government itself made the nomination.
"Mr Salmond's spokesperson has provided a version of events which is at odds with the facts of the case, and now Mr Salmond himself has been caught sending letters to MPs which are, at best, designed to deceive and, at worst, constitute outright falsehoods.
"The only way this matter can be laid to rest is for the SNP to open the books, tell us who made the original nomination, which minister approved it, and when the First Minister was told of it."
Labour has also written to the Scottish Government's permanent secretary asking for an investigation into claims Mr Salmond's senior special adviser, Kevin Pringle, tried to mislead the public.
The complaint centres around a statement he issued in June denying the Scottish Government had had anything to do with Sir Brian's nomination. He said: "We are just not involved in the process in any way, shape or form."
Mr Gray said: "There is disparity between the First Minister's spokesman's original version of events and what has since been confirmed by the Westminster Cabinet Office, and it needs to be investigated." Mr Gray repeated calls for the SNP government to publish all information held about its role in Sir Brian's nomination.
He said: "Given the SNP's continued refusal, I have instructed my staff to use Freedom of Information to force the SNP to release this information."
However, SNP MP Angus MacNeil said Labour was making "ridiculous smears" and that Mr Salmond had "put an end to the process of ministers making nominations" for honours when he became First Minister in 2007.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The position is perfectly clear and consistent, as both the First Minister and permanent secretary have set out - Scottish ministers have no role in the process of nominations or in making recommendations for honours. Honours matters are the responsibility of the UK government. Civil servants within the Scottish Government Honours Secretariat administer Scottish nominations before they are passed to the Cabinet Office."
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