Nicola Sturgeon’s top mandarin accused of cover-up in SNP ‘cash-for-votes

Nicola Sturgeon’s most senior mandarin is at the centre of allegations of a cover-up over the Scottish Government announcing millions of pounds of public funding for the SNP’s top target in last month’s council elections.Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, ruled that the announcement of £8 million of taxpayers’ money for Glasgow just 48 hours before the Nationalists succeeded in taking control of the city council did not break election rules.But damning documents about the ‘cash-for-votes row’, disclosed under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, showed that civil servants and even Ms Sturgeon’s official spokesman privately admitted it had been the “wrong call.”Senior officials also called it “an error of judgement”, only for Ms Evans to omit any reference to these admissions in a letter to a Conservative MSP dismissing an official complaint about the announcement.The Scottish Government today said there had been a “lapse in the internal handling” of the announcement but insisted there was no breach of the election ‘purdah’ rules.However, the Tories said the documents showed that the Scottish Government had attempted to cover up the true findings of its internal inquiry into the matter and demanded that Ms Sturgeon launches a full investigation into “this entire murky affair.”Nicola Sturgeon (L) and Susan Aitken (R), the new leader of Glasgow City Council, as they celebrated the SNP becoming the largest party in the city Credit: EPA Ross Thomson, the Tory MSP who made the complaint, said: “Now we know the truth – officials admitted they made ‘the wrong call’, and then the SNP government tried to cover it up.“This whole affair stinks – and it has shone a light on the SNP’s culture of secrecy, denial and evasion. Nicola Sturgeon cannot wash her hands of this any longer. She must act.”Civil service guidance issued in January said officials must take “particular care” about making announcements “which could have a bearing on the local elections” in the three weeks running up to polling day on Thursday, May 4.It also warned them that they must not “undertake any activity which could call into question their political impartiality.”However, on Tuesday of election week the Scottish Government issued a press release in which Kevin Stewart, the Housing Minister, unveiled £8.35 million to provide “high quality office space and hundreds of jobs” in Glasgow City Centre.Ms Sturgeon had made winning control of the city council after decades of Labour hegemony one of her top priorities in the election and she succeeded, although the SNP fell short of getting a majority.Dismissing his complaint, Ms Evans wrote to Mr Thomson on May 5 stating that there was “no evidence” of party politics having influenced its timing and its “very limited nature” meant it would not have an impact on the result.But the emails released under FoI showed that two days earlier Lesley Fraser, the Scottish Government’s Director for Housing and Social Justice, had told a senior colleague it was “clearly the wrong call.”She also told Sarah Davidson, the Director-General of the Communities division, that the civil servant responsible was “apologetic for not having questioned this further.”<=

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