Souter accuses Labour of ‘mischief-making’ over knighthood row

Brian Souter has accused Labour of 'mischief-making' following his knighthood
Brian Souter has accused Labour of 'mischief-making' following his knighthood
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STAGECOACH tycoon Sir Brian Souter yesterday accused Labour of “mischief-making” after Alex Salmond was cleared of playing any role in the award of his knighthood.

But the findings of former Lord Advocate Lord Fraser met with claims of a “whitewash” by Labour who said the report failed to address all the issues.

Sir Brian is one of the SNP’s biggest donors, and Labour MP Jim Sheridan complained when it emerged that the Scottish Government had nominated him for the honour. Mr Salmond had previously insisted he would play no part in the nomination of honours and Lord Fraser’s report cleared the First Minister of any wrongdoing.

A spokesman for Sir Brian said: “Scottish Labour acted in a petty and churlish fashion over the Souter knighthood issue. We hope that the new Labour leadership will avoid political mischief-making and engage in a more positive way with Scotland’s entrepreneurs and investors.”

But a Labour spokesman insisted that questions remain unanswered: “There will be concerns this is a whitewash as the Scottish Government are still refusing to publish all the relevant papers. They have refused a Freedom of Information request which the information commissioner is now investigating.”

The spokesperson said Lord Fraser “does not address the issue at hand, which is why did Alex Salmond write a letter denying his government had any involvement when in fact it made the nomination and the permanent secretary sat on the judging panel”.

“Sir Brian Souter should also understand the anger this award caused given his well-known views on gay people. Many Scots do not find these views just petty or churlish, but highly offensive.”

Sir Brian was a high-profile backer of the Keep the Clause campaign in 2000 which opposed the then Scottish Executive’s plan to scrap legislation preventing local authorities from promoting homosexuality in schools. He said he would donate £500,000 to the SNP in February shortly after the nomination was made. He was knighted in the birthday honours list for services to transport and to the voluntary sector.

Lord Fraser, an independent adviser on the Scottish ministerial code, found the allegations that ministers directed Mr Souter’s nomination were “wrong” and “ill-founded”.

The report, published yesterday, concluded the First Minister should be “wholly exonerated” of any breach in the code.

Lord Fraser’s report concluded: “There appears to me to have been no breach of the ministerial code by Alex Salmond as First Minister and he should be wholly exonerated of any breach.”

Lord Fraser said that, while Mr Sheridan had been entitled to assume a Scottish Government nomination had been approved by ministers, that assumption was “wrong”.

The SNP maintained that ministers have no role in the process. It said Sir Brian’s nomination was overseen by an independent “honours group” of civil servants, who administer nominations before they are passed on to the UK Cabinet Office.

“Scottish ministers, most particularly Alex Salmond, had no involvement,” the report added.

Mr Salmond said: “I would like to thank Lord Fraser for his thorough examination of this issue and I welcome the findings that have entirely exonerated Scottish Government ministers. I trust that Mr Sheridan will also welcome this conclusion.”