Tories demand answers from Sturgeon in growing “cash for votes” row

Tories demand answers from Sturgeon in growing “cash for votes” row

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1 day ago / Tom Gordon, Scottish Political Editor

NICOLA Sturgeon has been urged to explain how her ministers potentially broke pre-election purdah rules by announcing new spending deals that could influence votes.

Issuing fresh examples, the Scottish Conservatives claimed a “cash for votes” scandal was now swirling round the First Minister, with public money being misused for electioneering.

The Tories said the controversy “stinks to high heaven”.

The First Minister last week accused the Tories of trying to buy the 2015 general election through irregular campaign spending.

The row first erupted after housing minister Kevin Stewart announced £8.35m of new property investment on Tuesday for Glasgow, the SNP’s top target seat in the local election.

It led Tory MSP Ross Thomson to demand an investigation by the Scottish Government’s top official, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, into a possible breach of purdah rules.

Official guidance issued to civil servants in January warned they should take “particular care” about any announcement in the three weeks before the local election that might sway voters, and which could call the neutrality of officials into doubt.

The Tories have now published more examples they say could have affected voting.

On April 25, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing announced £948,000 to help crofters in Scotland’s most remote communities secure better housing.

Caithness MSP Gail Ross said it would be a “fantastic resource for crofters.”

The following day, the Scottish Government press office issued a statement signed off by Brexit minister Michael Russell announcing £1m of EU funding for Seafood Scotland.

Mr Russell said it was an example of “why EU funding is so important”. The previous day, the SNP had been criticised for having a confused policy on the EU and fishing.

Also on April 25, Economy Secretary Keith Brown published published a “progress report” on the government’s infrastructure plan.

The Herald can also reveal that an April 24, health secretary Shona Robison announced £6.3m of “extra funding” to “up-skill paramedics” for the Scottish Ambulance Service.

After Mr Thomson wrote to Ms Evans about the initial £8.35m announcement, the Scottish Government issued a single line response: “A letter has been received by the Permanent Secretary and a response will issue in due course.”

Mr Thomson, the Tory candidate in Aberdeen South, said that as more examples emerged it was Ms Sturgeon’s urgent duty to explain why her ministers made the announcements.

He said: “This has been a damning 24 hours of silence from Nicola Sturgeon. She needs to come out of hiding and explain the actions of her government.

“On her watch, ministers have announced government funding and promoted government investment in communities where her party is campaigning in vital local and UK-wide elections.

“We need a full investigation into how decisions were taken, when, and by whom – and why the impartial civil service supported these announcements during an election period and in apparent contravention of their own guidance.

“Above all, Scotland deserves a response from the First Minister.

“There are clear rules on how government should behave in the run-up to an election.

“It looks to many voters that the only rule the SNP has followed is how best to use taxpayers’ cash to win votes.

“It stinks to high heaven – and we need to see some clarity from the First Minister now.”

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