Police urged to investigate 'dishonest and deceitful' Tory election tactics

THE Tory candidate in the Moray by- election was accused last night of running a "dishonest and deceitful" campaign after sending out fake letters of support from local councillors, The Scotsman can reveal.

Mary Scanlon's campaign team sent handwritten letters to electors purportedly written and signed by two independent councillors. But both councillors told The Scotsman yesterday that they had neither written the letters nor agreed to them being issued in their names.

It is understood at least three voters plan to lodge official complaints with the Electoral Commission about the letters, alleging "misrepresentation" against Ms Scanlon. A formal complaint has also been made to Grampian Police.

Election experts described the campaign literature as "deeply dishonest", but the Tories insisted they had done nothing wrong and said they were victims of negative campaigning by the SNP.

It is the second time in less than a week that Ms Scanlon had been embroiled in claims of "tawdry" campaign tactics.

It was previously revealed that she had written to voters emphasising her friendship with Margaret Ewing, the late SNP MSP for the constituency, but had made no mention of the fact she was the Conservative candidate.

The new row centres around two letters which purport to have been written and signed by Tom Bothwell and Ron Shepherd, who are members of Moray Council's ruling independent administration.

Both letters call on the electorate to choose "an honest and approachable bonnie fechter" and end with the same key phrase - "So I urge you, like me, to vote for Mary Scanlon on the 27th".

Mr Bothwell, who is the councillor for Lossiemouth East, told The Scotsman he took "particular exception" to the claim that he had allegedly urged local voters to vote for Ms Scanlon.

He said: "I didn't write the letter endorsing Mary Scanlon. I didn't know about the letter until I came home from a council meeting and a friend phoned up about it. First of all, I didn't write it, and secondly, it wasn't my signature."

Mr Bothwell explained that he had earlier been visited by Ms Scanlon and two of her team when they had discussed a range of local issues.

"She was jotting down the things I said, and said she would come back to me with this letter and I would read it and OK it. But I never got it," he said. "I didn't say any of the things in the letter. It was the last two lines that I really objected to.

"I would have told them, 'There is no way you can print that on my behalf. I am an independent and I can't say to people to vote Conservative, Labour or whatever'."

Mr Bothwell went on: "She [Scanlon] came to me and she was in a terrible state and I was the same. She said, with hindsight, she should have showed me the letter first, I would agree with it and out it would go. But she didn't, and sent it out."

Mr Shepherd, the councillor for Rathford, said: "I never wrote the letter. It's signed Ron Shepherd, but I never signed it. You can't tell people who to vote for."

He went on: "She [Scanlon] phoned me one day and said I am putting in one or two things we are going to be working together on, this sort of thing, and I said, 'No problem'. But that doesn't mean I am going to endorse her. I never dreamed there was a letter coming with my address and my signature on it."

Mr Shepherd added: "I was upset at the time. I got on to the Tories and they said it was a rushed thing and they didn't really think. I don't think it's a dirty campaign. I believe it was an honest mistake."

Alex Folkes, the campaigns officer for the Electoral Reform Society, said: "As far I can tell, this is not against any particular electoral law. But whatever the law says, it is clearly deeply dishonest and, if nothing else, clearly the voters will be able to take their own view on this sort of activity.

"It is incredibly unwise, and I hope the voters will bear that in mind. Maybe it will be salutary lesson for the future for what parties choose to do."

John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, said: "It is not immediately obvious to me that there is any election law that's been broken. An awful lot of things get said in an election campaign that are not necessarily true. But if I were one of the other candidates, I would be making hay with this."

Angus Robertson, the SNP MP for the constituency, said: "The Tories' campaign here has been dishonest and deceitful from the start, with their failure to even mention the name of their party on their literature. But this big con has now rebounded on them."

However, Ramsay Jones, for the Scottish Tories, said of the letters: "They are not forgeries or fakes. In both cases, the letters were gone over with them. Mary herself spoke with them and changes were made for them, and Mr Shepherd himself, I know, is entirely happy about it.

"He said that if it [the letter] had been in his own handwriting, no-one could have read it. I really don't see what the fuss is about in terms of the signatures."

He added: "We are trying to get on to run a positive campaign on the local issues and the Nats are just stirring it up."

In statement issued on her behalf, Ms Scanlon said: "At no time did Councillor Bothwell infer or state that he was supporting the Conservative Party. In fact, Councillor Bothwell insisted that he believed in voting 'for a person, not a party' and also emphasised 'representing a community irrespective of party politics'.

"Councillor Bothwell was elected as an independent, with no political ties, and he strongly holds his independent views, irrespective of supporting Mary Scanlon. He has endorsed Mary Scanlon because she has pledged to represent all views and all issues in Moray."

What the notes said

April 2006

• Dear Resident,

I'm Ron Shepherd, the local councillor here in Portknockie. I hope you don't mind me writing to you - it's about the Moray by-election on Thursday 27th April.

I'm an Independent councillor because I believe in voting for a person, not a party. Many people in Portknockie voted for Margaret Ewing in the past because she was a good, hard working local campaigner who genuinely wanted to do her best for local people. For exactly the same reasons, I would encourage you to vote for Mary Scanlon on the 27th.

Mary has a track record in the Scottish Parliament of helping local people. She will take our concerns to Edinburgh on crucial issues like securing the future of Portknockie Primary School with an on-site library.

At this by-election, we must choose an honest and approachable bonnie fechter for Portknockie, who will represent the whole community irrespective of party politics. So I urge you, like me, to vote for Mary Scanlon on the 27th.

Yours, Councillor Ron Shepherd

April 2006

• Dear Resident,

I'm Tom Bothwell, the local councillor here in Lossiemouth. I hope you don't mind me writing to you - it's about the Moray by-election on Thursday 27 April.

I'm an Independent councillor because I believe in voting for a person, not a party. Many people in Lossiemouth voted for Margaret Ewing in the past because she was a good, hard-working local campaigner who genuinely wanted to do her best for local people. For exactly the same reasons I'd encourage you to vote for Mary Scanlon on the 27th.

Mary has a track record in the Scottish Parliament of helping local people. All too often people in rural communities like Lossiemouth are forgotten, but Mary will take our concerns to Edinburgh and Westminster on the issues which affect us, like protecting jobs at the airbase.

At this by-election we must choose an honest and approachable bonnie fechter for Lossiemouth, who will represent the whole community irrespective of party politics. So I urge you, like me, to vote for Mary Scanlon on the 27th.

Yours, Councillor Tom Bothwell

Moray a bruising battleground for former Tory MSP

THIS is proving to be a bruising and damaging election contest for Mary Scanlon - and there are still almost two weeks left to run.

On 7 April, Mrs Scanlon was accused of using the memory of the late Margaret Ewing, the former SNP MSP, to further her own cause.

The reason for the row was a letter, sent out to constituents by Mrs Scanlon, in which she associated herself with Mrs Ewing and did not mention that she was a Tory.

She wrote: "We owe it to Margaret to choose a successor who will fight for the people of Moray as tirelessly as she did."

John Swinney, the former SNP leader, said the failure of Mrs Scanlon to identify herself as a Tory in the letter was "a tactic of the political gutter".

"The impression she gives of being a close associate of Margaret, who is capable of taking forward Margaret's political legacy, is tawdry and deceitful," he added.

But the Tories dismissed the claim as "relentless negativity", prompted by increasing nerves about the Tory vote.

The party insisted that Mrs Scanlon is well known as a Tory.

Already an MSP, Mrs Scanlon was forced to resign her seat in the Scottish Parliament to contest the Moray by-election, which perhaps explains why she is so desperate to use every tactic at her disposal in an all-out attempt to win.

Richard Lochhead, the SNP candidate, was also an MSP and he too had to resign his seat at Holyrood in order to stand in the contest.

With the by-election basically a two-horse race between the SNP and the Tories, this ensures that one of the former MSPs will be out of a job in the next two weeks.