By a Newsnet reporter
Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has added his voice to concerns over the £500,000 donation given to the anti-independence campaign by businessman Ian Taylor.
Speaking in the Scotland on Sunday, Mr McLeish called for transparency and insisted the Labour party needed to clarify whether it believed the Better Together campaign was right to accept the money.
Speaking to the newspaper, he said:
“Labour has to be clear about whether this is the type of finance we want in the campaign…We need absolute transparency. We have to be very careful about what kind of money should be used. The unionist campaign has got to respond to legitimate questions and the criticism that’s been put forward.”
The comments from the former Labour First Minister came on the same day as a series of new broadsheet newspaper revelations about the activities of Vitol, the company of which Mr Taylor is president and chief executive, surfaced.
No campaign chairman Alistair Darling has insisted the campaign will hold on to the donation, despite the growing controversy. The Labour MP and former Chancellor has said he was “pleased” with Mr Taylor’s financial backing despite evidence that the company he leads was found to have avoided paying tax through the use of a controversial EBT scheme.
A number of other newspaper reports today detail extremely concerning reports about the activities of Mr Taylor’s company Vitol around the world.
The Sunday Times carries details of the involvement of Mr Taylor’s company with the Syrian state oil company Sytrol, during the period of the Syrian government’s oppression of the people.
Others critical include Steve Murdoch, the former director of NGO Ship to Bosnia described the pro-Union campaign’s decision to accept the donation as “shameful” and said it should be redistributed to orphans of the victims of Arkan’s murder squads in Croatia and Bosnia. Vitol gave Serbian war criminal Arkan $1 million.
The Sunday Herald reports that Mr Taylor “heads a company with a web of operations in tax havens”, and that two Vitol subsidiaries were fined $6m in 2010 in the US for “wilfully failing to disclose material facts” to the New York Mercantile Exchange for almost two years.
Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader and Defence and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Angus Robertson said:
“Another day, another set of deeply damaging revelations about the No campaign’s principal donor. Alistair Darling’s refusal to return this donation pending further investigation – and his refusal to outline what he knew of these matters before accepting the money, when he met Mr Taylor – is completely undermining the credibility of the No campaign.
“Labour former First Minister Henry McLeish is absolutely right when he calls for clarity about the type of finance that we want. He is the latest Labour politician to distance himself from Mr Taylor’s donations – Ken Macintosh said he didn’t know anything about it, and Labour MP and Treasury Select Committee member John Mann described his donations to the Tories as ‘dirty money’.
“If Labour think it is wrong for the Tories to take Mr Taylor’s money, how can Alistair Darling – a Labour MP – think it is right for the No campaign?
“Meanwhile, those who worked in the Balkans during the terrible war to help the people are now condemning the No campaign’s decision to accept this money.
“Let’s be absolutely clear – holding on to this £500,000 donation will be much more costly to the No campaign in the long run. This is a serious error of judgement by Alistair Darling – he has to take this opportunity to reverse his position, do the right thing, and hand the money back pending a full investigation by the No campaign.”
Labour MSP Ken Mcintosh
The controversy over the issue has led to lawyer’s letters being sent on behalf of Ian Taylor to several news outlets. As a result one website – National Collective – has been closed down.
A statement posted on the site said: “On the 9th April 2013, Lawyers – Collyer & Bristow acting on behalf of Vitol and multimillionaire and principal donor to ‘Better Together’ – Ian Taylor threatened legal action against the ‘National Collective’ claiming that it was grossly defamatory.”
The statement related to an article published by the site that detailed what it claimed were past business activities of Mr Taylor’s company Vitol.
A message from Aamer Anwar, Solicitor acting on behalf of National Collective said:
“National Collective have instructed my firm to act on their behalf, they state that they will not be bullied or silenced and state that their website is offline only as a temporary measure for a few days. A detailed and robust response will be issued early next week along with further questions for the ‘Better Together Campaign’ .”
A statement is expected from National Collective next week.
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