Scotland’s Branson offers £500,000 to SNP’s Holyrood campaign


by Alex Porter

A successful Scottish businessman whose business spans the globe has pledged up to £500,000 to help the SNP government get re-elected in May’s election.  Stagecoach owner Brian Souter, who has supported the SNP before has promised to match small donations to the SNP’s Holyrood campaign pound for pound as part of a strategy dubbed “Double Your Donation” to raise £1m.

An expert in the global ground transportation industry, Souter is recognised internationally alongside Richard Branson as a transport entrepreneur.  He co-founded Stagecoach with his sister Ann Gloag and from a starting point Stagecoach is now a major employer supporting 30,000 jobs.  A proud supporter of all things Scottish Souter’s company is headquartered in Perth with operations primarily around the UK, USA and Canada.

An industry innovator Souter was recognised last year in a new European award called ‘Talent in Mobility’.  The honour given in Paris was for transforming the perception of public transport and attracting people from all social backgrounds to get on board buses and trains.  The judges pointed to his leading role in encouraging car users to switch to greener, smarter bus and rail travel.

Supported by the UITP, the International Association of Public Transport, the ‘Talent in Mobility’ awards are judged by a panel of European transport journalists.  The awards honour women and men who have contributed to the development of public transport and sustainable mobility across Europe.

Heavily involved in charity work, he and his wife Betty set up the Souter Charitable Trust in 1992 which assists projects for the relief of human suffering in the UK and overseas.  Over the last five years, the trust has awarded over 2,700 grants worth more than £20 million.

First Minister Alex Salmond is, not surprisingly, very happy with the news of support from Stagecoach’s Chief Executive: “Brian Souter is one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of his generation with a passionate belief in Scotland.  This offer to match every small donation the SNP receives up to £500,000 will power our fundraising for this campaign, and double the impact of every penny put toward re-electing an SNP Government in May.” said the FM.

Political influence

SNP opponents will try to take the shine of the party’s good news by suggesting that when the SNP was first elected in 2007 it changed its transport policy on deregulation.  A policy which was perceived to suit Mr Souter’s company.  However it is difficult to quantify what impact the policy had on Stagecoach’s international operations.  As Unionist parties often point out Scotland is a small market.

Whatever the truth, the allegations can’t be substantiated.  The system of donations allow all parties to accept donations from businesses inside the UK.  Any government policy which relates to the same industry as a Government party’s donor would attract speculation and with the Scottish media being generally hostile to the SNP such speculation in this case will likely be hyped.

Souter’s controversial role in funding a campaign, over ten years ago, to retain legislation which many believed to be homophobic has led him to be viewed with considerable suspicion amongst many on the left of Scottish politics.

These are certainly difficult issues for the parties generally.

Recently Labour in Scotland led a campaign to vote down the SNP’s so-called ‘supermarket tax’.  The levy was aimed at raising £30m for public spending by increasing the taxes paid by the large supermarket giants.  The move was blocked after Unionist parties used their combined majority in Holyrood to protect the giant retail corporations.

The measure was popular with small businesses, small retailers and local activists around Scotland who believe that the advantage supermarkets such as Tesco have, destroy their local business environment and impoverish their communities.  Local activists argue that with small retailers, profits are recycled within the community whereas supermarket profits go to shareholders based mostly in London.

Using information from the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Greens recently reminded people that, since 2003, the Labour Party received £10,942,808 from Lord Sainsbury; £99,056.50 from Tesco.  The Liberal Democrats received £35,684.50 from Tesco while the Conservatives had received £30,000 from Selfridges.

One of the SNP government’s election pledges is the promise to reintroduce the ‘supermarket tax’ legisaltion in Holyrood if it is re-elected.