Pressure grows on Sturgeon in election cash row

Nicola Sturgeon is under mounting pressure over claims the SNP administration attempted to influence voters by ignoring rules around government cash announcements in the run up to the local election.

Nicola Sturgeon

The Scottish Conservatives have raised questions about announcements of £1 million for 29 crofters and £1 million for the seafood industry at a time when civil servants are bound by strict impartiality rules.

Ms Sturgeon’s opponents have accused the Scottish Government of using public money to “win” votes.

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Earlier this week it emerged that the Scottish Government announced a £8.35 million cash injection for urban regeneration in Glasgow less than 48 hours before the polls opened for the council elections.

Since then the Conservatives have drawn attention to two more announcements made less than 10 days before polling day.

Nine days ago, the Scottish Government announced more than £948,000 to help crofters in rural areas benefit from better housing. The cash is to be shared between 29 crofters.

Shortly afterwards £1 million from a EU fund, administered by the Scottish Government directorate Marine Scotland, was announced for the seafood industry.

Guidelines for civil servants, who are bound by rules on impartiality, state they must ensure that public cash is not used for party political purposes. Particular care must be taken in the weeks ahead of an election – a period known as purdah.

The Conservatives wrote to Scotland’s most senior civil servant the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans to demand an investigation following the £8.35 million announcement for Glasgow.

Conservative MSP and candidate for Aberdeen South Ross Thomson said: “This has been a damning 24 hours of silence from Nicola Sturgeon. She needs to come out of hiding and explain the actions of her government.
“On her watch, ministers have been announcing government funding and promoting government investment in communities where her party is campaigning in vital local and UK-wide elections.
“We need a full investigation into how decisions were taken, when, and by whom - and why the impartial civil service supported these announcements during an election period and in apparent contravention of their own guidance.
“Above all, Scotland deserves a response from the First Minister.
“There are clear rules on how government should behave in the run-up to an election. It looks to many voters that the only rule the SNP has followed is how best to use taxpayers’ cash to win votes.
“It stinks to high heaven – and we need to see some clarity from the First Minister now.”​
The Scottish Government has said a letter has been received by the Permanent Secretary and a response will be issued in due course.