SNP failed to comply with the law over secret letters to Souter

THE Scottish Government “failed to comply” with the law after ministers blocked a request for the release of documents revealing communications between the SNP administration and the party’s biggest donor, Stagecoach owner Sir Brian Souter, the information commissioner has ruled.

The commissioner heavily criticised ministers for not releasing the correspondence involving Sir Brian, who was knighted last year, just months after he donated £500,000 to the SNP’s election war chest during last year’s election.

A separate request for information about the Scottish Government’s role in handing the knighthood given to the SNP-supporting tycoon was rejected by ministers on the grounds that this would “prejudice” relations with the UK government.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have received the Scottish Information Commissioner’s decision and are considering its terms.”

The commissioner’s ruling comes after First Minister Alex Salmond was accused of trying to “deceive” the public about his role in the controversial decision to knight Sir Brian, who has given more than £1 million to the SNP during his business career.

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Scottish ministers insist that the recommendation process for honours in Scotland is “dealt with by the UK government” and that the SNP administration had no role in securing the knighthood for Sir Brian.

However, the UK Cabinet Office previously said in a letter to Labour MP Cathy Jamieson that the “nomination of Brian Souter came from the Scottish Government”.

Labour MSP Paul Martin claimed the Scottish Government “routinely” dismissed freedom of information requests, as the Scottish Information Commissioner ordered ministers to carry out a review of the decision to reject the request for all communications between SNP ministers and Sir Brian since 2007.

Ministers said the request for the communications with Sir Brian from a member of public was exempt under the law, before later ruling it was invalid.

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A ruling from the head of enforcement for the Scottish Information Commissioner, following an appeal against the government’s decision, said that ministers had failed to comply with the law that sets out a “general entitlement” for access to information held by public bodies.

Labour MSP Mr Martin said: “I very much welcome the Scottish Information Commissioner’s important ruling. It cannot be right that the SNP government routinely refuses to answer freedom of information requests because they are embarrassing to ministers and officials.

“I hope these documents will be released speedily and that the SNP will not challenge the findings of the commissioner in the courts. I hope the documents will shed light on why the SNP claimed not have been involved in any way in the controversial decision to award Brian Souter a knighthood, when in fact it transpired they nominated him.”

The latest row over Sir Brian’s knighthood comes after the SNP government previously said that Buckingham Palace rules banned publishing more details.

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A Scottish Government said that it “relates to the exercise by Her Majesty of Her prerogative of honour”.