Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton faces expenses probe

Alex Cole-Hamilton is facing calls to resign the party whip as police probe alleged '˜financial irregularities' in the Liberal Democrat MSP's election spending.

Under investigation: Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western Alex Cole-Hamilton. Picture: Neil Hanna
Under investigation: Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western Alex Cole-Hamilton. Picture: Neil Hanna

The MSP for Edinburgh Western, who won the seat in May’s Holyrood elections, was reported to Police Scotland earlier this month and faces allegations over inacccuracies in his campaign spending return.

And now the SNP are calling on the former charity worker, tipped as a future leader of the Lib Dems, to resign the party whip while police investigations are ongoing.

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Angus Stewart, the SNP’s Edinburgh Western branch spokesperson, told The National newspaper: “Given that Alex Cole-Hamilton is personally under investigation over his expenses it is right and proper that he resigns the party whip while the police establish if any wrongdoing has been committed.”

A member of the public is said to have alerted police to the inaccurate spending return, in which Mr Cole-Hamilton reportedly ‘under-declared’ his campaign spending costs.

The Liberal Democrats have insisted that all campaign spending was within the strict election guidelines and that neither Mr Cole-Hamilton nor his election agent have been contacted by investigating officers.

But SNP activists are said to be angry that Mr Cole-Hamilton has not resigned the whip - especially after Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson resigned the whip as police probed property transactions linked to her business.

Ms Thomson’s solicitor was struck off as part of the investigation but Nationalists believe the probe impacted upon the SNP’s Holyrood campaign.

The row over Mr Cole-Hamilton’s election spending reportedly concerns leaflet and office costs, according to the Sunday Herald.

Mr Cole-Hamilton recorded the highest election costs of any Edinburgh candidate, spending £32,549 on his campaign while his rival for the Edinburgh Western seat, SNP candidate Tony Giugliano, spent £18,593.

But the Sunday Herald reported last week that dual candidate Mr Cole-Hamilton - who contested the Edinburgh Western seat as well as being top of the party’s regional list for the Lothians - attributed thousands of pounds worth of leaflet and office costs to the regional battle in a bid to avoid going over the spending cap.

And a number of the leaflets are said to have referenced specific neighbourhoods within the Edinburgh Western constituency and were heavily weighted towards the constituency battle rather than the regional fight.

A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: “We are investigating an allegation of financial irregularities. Our inquiries are ongoing as we work towards establishing if any criminality has taken place.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesman added: “All campaign spending was forensically and properly recorded through detailed accounts. Everything is fully within the rules. The police have not contacted Alex Cole-Hamilton or his agent.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton, who defeated Mr Giugliano by 2,960 votes, is now the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman at Holyrood.