By Martin Kelly
Labour MSP Paul Martin has been left looking foolish after failing to adhere to the proper procedure after Scottish Labour tried to make yet another complaint against First Minister Alex Salmond.
The embarrassing gaffe happened after Mr Martin claimed that having a cup of tea with SNP supporting lottery winners in Bute House may have breached the Ministerial Code.
However instead of notifying Mr Salmond himself, as procedure demands, the Labour MSP wrote directly to Dame Elish Angiolini.
The complaints system was introduced by the SNP Government after they won the 2007 Holyrood election and has already witnessed several accusations from the Labour party thrown out.
First Minister Alex Salmond has now stepped in to resolve the blunder by referring himself to the independent advisers to the Ministerial Code.
Mr Salmond has also written to Mr Martin outlining the proper process.
In his letter to Mr Martin, the First Minister writes:
Dear Mr Martin
I write following press reports that you have written to Dame Elish Angiolini making complaints under the Ministerial Code.
I am sure that you are aware that as First Minister I established for the first time an independent panel to investigate alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code to provide a robust and transparent process. The procedure for making such a complaint is made clear in paragraph 1.6 of the Ministerial Code. Any complaint should be directed in the first instance to me as First Minister so that I may consider whether the matter should be referred to the independent advisers. Hopefully you will manage to get this simple procedure right on any future occasion.
Despite not having received such a letter of complaint from you, I have decided to refer the issues reported in the media about visitors to Bute House in the Daily Telegraph on 28 March, the Daily Mail on 31 March and again in the Daily Telegraph today. I would not wish your misunderstanding of procedure to prevent an independent evaluation of the merits of the points you have been so keen to publish.
I have therefore written to Dame Elish Angiolini, as one of the independent advisers, and asked her formally to investigate whether a breach of the Ministerial Code has occurred. Dame Angiolini has been provided with copies of the three press reports and, of course, will have received your letter. If you have anything further to provide a basis for your complaints then let me know so that this material can also be provided.
The rest of the procedure is now in the hands of Dame Angiolini. The findings of the independent adviser will be published. I will accept them and I hope that you will now indicate that you will so the same.
It is unfortunate that you have chosen not to follow the procedures set down to investigate allegations such as these. I am confident that, as on each of the three previous occasions your party has made complaints of this nature, the independent advisers will find your allegations to be entirely without any foundation.
A spokesperson for the First Minister added:
“The First Minister has taken the decision to refer this issue because we have total confidence in our position, in light of this entirely spurious and absurd complaint from Labour.
“All complaints previously considered by the independent advisers since 2007 were dismissed and we will similarly accept the results of Elish Angiloini’s findings in this case – we ask that Paul Martin does the same.
“No private dining for donors takes place at Bute House, never has under this administration, and never will. Labour, the party of cash for honours and the Ecclestone affair, are guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy.
“Government functions are all in the public domain because, unlike the last Labour-led administration, we publish details of everyone receiving Bute House hospitality at a reception, lunch or dinner. No-one has ever suggested prior to this that individuals should be excluded from Government events simply because they are donors. This is a totally ridiculous proposition.
“By long-standing practice for many years, First Ministers and before that Scottish Secretaries have nominated personal guests for the Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh, and since 1999 for the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, and offered such hospitality. It is insulting to suggest any upstanding person should be excluded. If SNP supporters were to be excluded, by definition that would cover half the population.
“In addition, it should be noted that hospitality costs at Bute House are significantly less for this administration than under the previous Labour/Lib Dem Executive.”
However Mr Martin has now bizarrely claimed that the intervention of the First Minister to ensure the complaint complied with proper procedure is a “u-turn”.
According to the BBC, Mr Martin said: “This is a welcome u-turn from the First Minister who only days ago was claiming there was nothing worth investigating.
The Labour MSP has also appeared to change his complaint from that of a cup of tea, already acknowledged by the First Minister, to claims that dinner was had:
“There are serious and growing concerns about the First Minister entertaining wealthy SNP donors on public property. Allegations of dinner for donors needs to be thoroughly investigated.” he added.
In the online report of Mr Salmond’s self referral the BBC has ignored the Labour MSP’s blunder and compounded the ommission by appearing to suggest SNP interference in bus tycoon Brian Souter’s knighthood award when referring to letters between the tycoon and the SNP, the BBC article states: “the bus tycoon, who was nominated for a knighthood shortly after making a donation to the SNP.” .
This is despite the original accusations having already been formally investigated and been proven entirely baseless when Labour complained at the time.
The suggestion of impropriety from Labour and now the BBC is part of a raft of similar attacks emanating from the Scottish Labour party over the last few days and given high profile coverage by BBC Scotland.
The tea complaint and the Souter letters attacks follow what turned out to be false accusations from Labour’s Scottish Deputy leader Anas Sarwar that the Scottish Government’s referendum consultation had been deliberately designed to allow nationalist supporters to flood the process with multiple submissions, a claim disproved with the publication of figures yesterday by the Scottish Government.