by a Newsnet reporter
The SNP MP who sparked the cash for honours inquiry, Angus MacNeil, has called on Labour to apologise over smears and aspersions after an independent report “wholly exonerated” the First Minister of any breach of the ministerial code over the award of a knighthood to Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter.
The report by Lord Fraser of Carmyllie – an independent adviser to the Scottish Government on the Ministerial Code – has found that allegations Scottish ministers had directed the nomination of Mr
Souter were wrong and “ill-founded”.
The investigation followed Labour MP Jim Sheridan’s complaint that Alex Salmond had somehow been involved in obtaining the award of the knighthood to Sir Brian – a well-known financial backer of the SNP.
Lord Fraser said Mr Sheridan’s complaint was “ill-founded” and based on the incorrect assumption that Scottish ministers at Holyrood played a role in the Scottish Government’s nominations to the Honours Unit in London.
Lord Fraser said: “Mr Sheridan is a respected MP and not a careless populist. He was entitled to assume that when it was asserted that a nomination came from the Scottish Government that Scottish Ministers either approved the nomination or at least had some involvement in its submission.
“In fact he was wrong in that assumption. Scottish ministers, most particularly Alex Salmond, had no involvement.”
Lord Fraser concluded: “Given those facts checked out with the Permanent Secretary and the Honours Unit 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.”
The ruling was reached following communication with the head of honours and appointments in the Cabinet Office who could find no evidence that the First Minister had approached his office either directly, or indirectly.
First Minister Alex 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.
“Lord Fraser indicated that I should restate the Scottish Government’s position on awarding Honours and I am happy to do so, in the form of a parliamentary answer.”
However, SNP MP Angus MacNeil insisted that the First Minsiter was owed an apology from the Labour MP and said:
“Labour should not judge people by their own standards, and those who peddled these smears and aspersions should now have the grace to apologise.
“It is clear from Lord Fraser’s report, as it always was, that Scottish Ministers had no involvement in Sir Brian’s nomination. The Scottish Government has a clear and principled policy on honours nominations and they have not deviated from that.
“The muck raking by some in Labour’s ranks is all the more extraordinary given the cash for honours scandal that engulfed the last Labour government at Westminster.
“Labour’s leadership candidates should now distance themselves from this concocted row, and apologise for peddling this nonsense.”