Scottish Tories face 'cronyism' accusations after £150,000 donor wins Lothians list seat endorsement

The Scottish Conservatives have been hit by claims of “cronyism” by their own ranks after a candidate who has donated almost £150,000 to the party received an endorsement from Ruth Davidson’s candidate committee.

Ruth Davidson's candidate committee has been accused of 'cronyism' by internal opponents.
Ruth Davidson's candidate committee has been accused of 'cronyism' by internal opponents.

Malcolm Offord, the founder of private equity firm Badenoch & Co, has donated £147,500 to the Conservatives, according to the Electoral Commission’s website.

Party sources claim he has secured a coveted endorsement from the former party leader’s candidate committee that will be included on the cover letter of ballot papers for the regional list selection process that is due to be sent to Scottish Conservative members.

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The endorsements are a closely-held party secret due to concerns around potential negative press and are viewed as a guide to the membership as to who to vote for.

Ms Davidson is understood to be rubber-stamping the decisions made by internal party officials, with the system initially viewed as a potential route into Holyrood for those not chosen to stand in constituencies.

Last weekend, it emerged in reports by the Press and Journal that former Tory MP Colin Clark was rejected as a candidate by the same committee.

In the Lothians, it is understood Mr Offord has been endorsed alongside incumbent MSPs Jeremy Balfour and Miles Briggs, and Edinburgh City councillor Sue Webber and director for Women2Win Scotland, the Conservative’s campaign for more women to stand for election, Marie-Clair Munro.

The financier also stood for the candidacy in Ruth Davidson’s current seat, Edinburgh Central, finishing second in the internal ballot of members behind eventual victor Scott Douglas.

However, the fact he has received an endorsement from the former leader's committee has angered some within the party who feel more established campaigners have been overlooked in favour of the donor.

One party source said “This whole process reeks of cronyism. It seems all you need to get an endorsement is to have deep pockets.

“Some of these candidates have done absolutely no campaigning in the area to help the Conservative cause yet they have been backed by party officials.

“Meanwhile, experienced elected representatives who have worked hard for years have been overlooked.”

Among those overlooked include current council group leader Iain Whyte, constituency candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, Callum Laidlaw, and councillor Joanna Mowat.

Mr Offord’s support of the Conservatives goes back at least 14 years, with the businessman donating £15,000 as recently as November 2019.

He has also given £2,500 directly to Michael Gove and £7,500 to Conservative peer Philippa Stroud’s 2010 parliamentary campaign in previous years.

Mr Offord is also a director of the Scottish Rugby Union and the chairman of London Scottish since 2017, while he has also worked for the centre-right think-tank Centre for Social Justice, which was co-founded by former work and pensions secretary and Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

The prospective candidate also founded the ‘No Borders Campaign’ during the Scottish independence referendum to which he donated £20,000.

According to his biography on Badenoch & Co’s website, the businessman, originally from Greenock, graduated in law from the University of Edinburgh before working in the City of London for 26 years.

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: "All candidates are judged solely on their merits and rankings are entirely dependent on votes of our supporters across Scotland."

Mr Offord was also contacted for comment.

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