SNP in row over Brian Souter knighthood

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THE SNP's relationship with Sir Brian Souter was under fire again from Labour last night after it emerged that the Scottish Government had nominated him - the SNP's biggest donor - for his knighthood.

The award, for services to transport and the voluntary sector, was included in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June following a request from the Edinburgh administration, the Cabinet Office revealed.

A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond last night said SNP ministers had not had anything to do with the nomination, saying the process had been handled entirely by non-political officials.

But Labour claimed the revelations showed that the SNP had to re-examine its relationship with wealthy donors such as Souter, and said Salmond would have been involved.

The founder of Stagecoach, Souter was knighted for having taken the company to a multi-million pound global business and for having handed out more than 20 million to charitable causes through his own trust.

Over the past four years, Souter has also given more than 1m to the SNP, including a 500,000 pledge to this year's election campaign.

His knighthood also brought complaints from gay rights campaigners, angry over his campaign to block the repeal of Section 28, the law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

The row prompted Labour MP Cathy Jamieson to seek details on the award from the UK Government, which wrote to her last week stating that the nomination "came from the Scottish Government".

Labour last night said there were major question marks over the SNP's links to wealthy donors such as Souter. Jamieson highlighted a comment from a spokesman for the First Minister in June which stated that "Scottish ministers have no involvement in the process".

She also drew attention to a comment made by Salmond after the so-called "cash for honours" affair when he attacked "a political culture which allowed a relationship between financial donations and nominations for honours".

Jamieson said: "The First Minister and his party must look seriously at the relationship they have developed with wealthy individuals handing them large sums of cash. The public will rightly be asking what's next on Mr Souter's shopping list?"

She also accused the First Minister of having "personal involvement in the honour" and "misleading the public" by denying knowledge of it.

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "The reference to the Scottish Government is not to ministers, but to the independent Honours Committee within the Scottish Government which consists of civil servants and is led by the permanent secretary, and makes recommendations to the UK Cabinet Office Honours Committee. It was this Scottish Government's decision in 2007 that ministers would make no nominations for honours. That is the position, and therefore it remains absolutely the case that the Queen's honours is a reserved matter and Scottish ministers have no involvement in the process.""Scottish Ministers make no nominations, and are only informed of those receiving honours shortly before they are to be publicly announced, in order that we can welcome all those being recognised."