SNP to empty coffers in Scottish independence fight

THE SNP will empty its coffers and devote all its cash to winning the referendum, the party’s national treasurer revealed last night.

Colin Beattie says the SNP is in a very good financial position. Picture: Gordon Fraser

On the eve of one of the most important party conferences in the SNP’s 80-year history, Colin Beattie said every last penny in the SNP’s seven-figure war chest would be thrown at the campaign.

His dramatic pledge came as activists headed to Aberdeen for their last conference before the 18 September poll.

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At the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, SNP members will also be implored to “dig out that last bawbee” as the party mounts another drive to add to the impressive fighting fund already ­collected.

Activists will be urged to put their hands in their pockets at the conference, which is being staged as a massive ­rallying-cry for independence. SNP strategists have structured the event in a way that they hope will see their independence message transmitted via keynote speeches by First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to a television audience of unsure voters who could decide the result.

The key message to the grassroots, however, will be that their – and their party’s – money can make the difference in the battle for votes.

In a message to members, Mr Beattie, who is MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, has said the party expects to end the financial year with “no money at all… not when the prize we all seek is at our fingertips”.

The national treasurer added: “I have no doubt that in the months ahead a well-funded opposition will pour money into their campaign of fear and deception. We must stand ready to meet that challenge.”

Speaking to The Scotsman last night, Mr Beattie said: “The fact is we are entering into the biggest campaign that Scotland has ever had to take a decision on.

“The referendum is it – it is the big thing. If this is not the time to spend our money, then when is? I’m not suggesting we run up overdrafts, I am suggesting if we have any money and we haven’t spent it and we haven’t spent it well on the referendum ­campaign, then we are failing in our duty.”

Mr Beattie added: “That goes for branches, as well as headquarters. It is self-evident that we should be pulling out all the stops in order achieve what we have all been working for, for many, many years.”

Mr Beattie declined to disclose the size of the SNP’s referendum war chest, but it is strongly suspected the Yes-side has gathered more cash than its Better ­Together opponents.

Better Together has declared donations of about £3 million so far, a figure below the £7m it has talked about in the past.

The Yes Scotland campaign, which includes the SNP and other independence supporters, has so far declared £1.7m. The Yes campaign is expected to ­declare more donations shortly.

When combined, Yes Scotland and the SNP can spend a total of almost £3m on the final stages of the campaign.

Electoral Commission rules state in the four-month period before the referendum, the two lead campaign groups have a spending limit of £1.5m each.

On top of this, limits for the political parties were set based on their vote share in the 2011 Scottish election. It means the SNP is entitled to spend £1.3m, Labour £834,000, the Conservatives £396,000, the Liberal Democrats £201,000 and the Greens £150,000.

Other registered campaigners have been set a £150,000 limit, while donations and loans of more than £7,500 will have to be declared.

According to the SNP’s most recent annual accounts, published last year, the party’s ­income in 2011 came to £5m, a sum that included a £1m donation from the EuroMillions lottery winners Chris and Colin Weir and a legacy of almost £1m from the late Scots Makar Edwin Morgan.

In 2012, the SNP had income worth £2.3m. When overall ­expenditure of £6.1m in 2011 and 2012 was subtracted, the party was left with a surplus of £1.2m.

Since then, more donations worth hundreds of thousands of pounds have rolled in.

Mr Beattie said: “I can’t go into detailed figures, but what I can say is that our underlying financial position is very, very good. You can remember a time in years past. I am in my tenth year as national treasurer and the finances were not always as robust.

“Now we are not exactly throwing money around, but we are in a good solid position.”

Mr Beattie said it was vital that grassroots members kept fund-raising. He added: “There’s been ­donations large and small, but the spread of donations we have got as a party are very much weighted to the ordinary members. They are the ones that keep us afloat, keep us going. They are the ones we rely on.

“Any of us on 19 September would be extremely disappointed if we didn’t get there for the want of spending a few pounds. I’m not saying we should go into overdraft, but if we have a penny in the bank it shouldn’t be there. It should be out there working.”

The SNP’s opponents claimed that the party’s fundraising ­activities were an indication that its campaign was struggling.

A Labour Party spokeswoman said: “We know that the SNP are happy to spend thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on propaganda for their separation obsession and now they’re going cap in hand to their own membership to bolster their coffers.

“With just over five months to go until the referendum, it’s clear that the SNP don’t believe their own bluster that they can win Scotland’s vote as they prepare to throw all their resources on their ailing campaign.”

About 1,200 people are ­expected to attend the conference, the vast majority of whom will be SNP members. The event will also see celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of the SNP, which falls this weekend.