The SNP-supporting owner of Stagecoach gifted Alex Salmond’s party a £500,000 sum at the 2011 Holyrood election, but has yet to give any cash to the official cross-party Yes campaign.
However, the head of the Christians for Independence group confirmed Sir Brian had donated £100,000 to cover the bulk of its campaign costs in the run-up to the referendum.
Group convenor Dave Thompson, a senior SNP MSP, said the group had approached Sir Brian, who spent an estimated £1 million on a privately funded referendum aimed at retaining legislation that banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
Mr Thompson said the cash would be used to pay for campaign literature and the cost of staging meetings. The MSP said Sir Brian’s gift would “allow us to do what we need to do” as he said the group would also campaign for a commitment to protect religious freedom in an independent Scotland.
He said: “It will help us get the message across to Christians about the positive case for a Yes vote and how independence is the best way to promote social justice. “Obviously we’re producing leaflets for the campaign and are holding meetings. This will cover most of our costs. We put a proposal to Brian Souter and he looked at it. We approached him and he liked the case we made. We’ve not asked for any more. His donation will allow us to do what we need to do. There’s a draft constitution being published and we’ll have a look at that. We believe the constitution needs to reflect religious freedom.”
Tory MSP John Lamont said that Sir Brian’s gift should be treated as part of the official pro-independence group’s spending limits, even though the tycoon has not donated directly to Yes Scotland.
He said: “The legal position, as set out by the Electoral Commission, is quite clear: any spending by organisations ‘working together’ with Yes Scotland means that spending by those organisations must come off Yes Scotland’s total. They cannot increase the amount of money available to the yes side by registering multiple front organisations.
“Yes campaign groups have attacked the CBI over whether it will be a formal campaign organisation or not.
“The money spent by these organisations, including this large donation by Brian Souter, must come off Yes Scotland’s spending limits.
“We must have a fair contest where both sides abide by the legally set-out spending limits.”
A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “This is a matter for Christians for Independence.”