Tory MSP facing suspension calls over spending claims

The Scottish Conservatives are facing calls to suspend one of their MSPs over allegations that he failed fully to declare campaign spending with electoral authorities.

Alexander Burnett has already been reported.
Alexander Burnett has already been reported.

Alexander Burnett, who won the Aberdeenshire West constituency by just 900 votes in May, did not declare use of his own office for campaign purposes, it is claimed.

Electoral rules state that donations in kind, including the value of office space, must be declared. Mr Burnett’s campaign was £1,303 short of the £14,069 spending limit set by the Electoral Commission.

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The SNP has called on the Tories to suspend the MSP pending an investigation. Mr Burnett, a businessman with property holdings believed to be worth £20 million, was reported to the parliamentary standards watchdog earlier this month for asking questions about a property development involving a rival firm.

It is understood the matter will be referred to the Electoral Commission this week. The Scottish Conservatives maintain that spending was properly declared.

SNP MSP Gillian Martin said: “The Tories won Aberdeenshire West by only the slimmest of margins and any campaign spending kept off the books could be seen as one candidate having an unfair advantage over the others.

“In cases where a member faces questions over their election spending, the public have a right to expect full answers from the Scottish Tories and Ruth Davidson should now suspend him from the party until the issue is fully resolved.”

Pictures taken during the election campaign that came to light on social media allegedly show Mr Burnett’s campaign using the Banchory Business Centre, which he owns. The posts were hidden from public view after questions were asked by journalists, according to reports in the Sunday Post newspaper.

Election returns filed by Mr Burnett’s campaign show he spent £682.50 on office accommodation from January to April this year, and a further £376.25 in the five weeks before the poll, but claim this was provided by the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine branch of the Conservative Party.

He also declared the cost of mobile phones provided by the North Banchory Company, where he is a director, but does not mention telephones at Banchory Business Centre.

A statement issued on Mr Burnett’s behalf said: “All telephoning has been properly declared on the national and constituency election returns.”