the tide turns against Salmond

SNP big donor transfers support to the Conservatives (From HeraldScotland) <!– –>

SNP big donor transfers support to the Conservatives

Exclusive by Tom Gordon Scottish Political Editor

Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel

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ONE of the SNP’s big donors has switched his financial support to the Conservatives over Brexit and the economy, the Herald can reveal.

Businessman Bill Samuel, who has given the SNP £60,000 over the past decade and who publicly backed a Yes vote in 2014, has now handed £10,000 to the Tories.

Mr Samuel, 74, said he switched allegiance because he feared Nicola Sturgeon’s government did not understand the way the economy worked and he also wanted Brexit to go well.

He said the SNP appeared to have passed its “apogee”, or highest point, adding: “It’s very sad in a way. What an opportunity that was, what an opportunity. It’s just so sad.”

The development coincided with Tory pollster Lord Ashcroft revealing focus groups in two Tory target seats had found voters turned off by the SNP “dogged” pursuit of independence.

Alex Salmond’s friend and favourite hotelier, Stewart Spence, owner of the Marcliffe Hotel, also announced yesterday he had switched support to the Tory candidate in Aberdeen South.

Mr Spence was a high-profile critic of the SNP’s business rates regime earlier this year.

A former chair of Motherwell FC, Mr Samuel first announced in January he had withdrawn his support for the SNP over its tax policies and pursuit of a second independence referendum.

However his financial support for the Conservatives only emerged this week when the Electoral Commission released party donation figures for the first quarter of 2017.

They showed the former steel tycoon, who backed the SNP in 2006 after meeting Alex Salmond while working at RBS, gave the Conservatives the five-figure sum in mid-February.

The figures also showed the SNP’s large donors dried up last year, with the party declaring less than £60,000 in high-value donations compared to £1.36m from public funds.

In 2007, Ms Sturgeon referred to Mr Samuel’s support in the Holyrood chamber, saying he and other business people would previously have backed the Tories, but now “successful Scots want a successful Scotland and they know that the way to achieve that is to vote SNP”.

Mr Samuel said Mr Salmond was “very charismatic”, “wonderful company” with “a lot to offer”.

However he felt Ms Sturgeon, although she had her “heart in the right place” and had “very laudable” aims, did not understand the needs of business or how to improve the economy.

“Despite the fact that’s she’s a brilliant debater, she just doesn’t get it,” he said.

“The Scot Nats are lovely people. I think they want good things for Scotland. But I just don’t think they know how the machine works – the economy.”

He said he was also worried about the decline in education under the SNP.

“Even Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney are now saying it’s terrible. In my lifetime, Scotland was in fact the beacon of educational excellence. If it’s fallen to the levels that now no one is contesting, that’s a huge worry.”

He was more wistful about the independence referendum.

“I think there was a great case for independence,” he said. “I was kind of sorry we never got the chance to see it. But we’ve had our chance at that. We said if we don’t get it it’ll be once in a lifetime, and I think we should stand by that.”

A Leave voter, he did not think the Brexit result should be used as “an excuse” to revisit the 2014 vote, and had donated to the Tories, who he supported before the SNP, partly because of Brexit .

He said: “I felt I was lending support to where our best chance of good sense lay.

“Are they less than perfect? Probably. But is it our best hope in the circumstances for a properly negotiated Brexit and a series of policies which will carry us successfully through the next 20 or 30 years? I think so. I think so and I pray so.”

He said that if the Tories gained half a dozen seats from the SNP on June 8, Ms Sturgeon would be in a “very tricky predicament” over her plans for a second independence referendum.

“That’s the Scottish independence debate finished,” he said. “ I just don’t think you could say Scotland really wants independence when you’re six or seven seats short of where you were [in 2015].

“I think that’s a self-answering question.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “Many people across Scotland are fed up with the SNP’s high-tax agenda, and are finding a home with the Scottish Conservatives.”

The SNP declined to comment.

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