Saturday, 10 October 2015

Tugging at Threads

There many so many fascinating threads to the Michelle Thomson story that I think a rather significant one may have been somewhat overlooked: in their haste to throw Ms Thomson under the bus, have the SNP unintentionally leaked information which may be of interest to the Electoral commission?

I emailed this letter to the Electoral Commission yesterday (09/10/2015)

Dear Sirs

I read with interest a recent article in the Sunday Herald which revealed some interesting information regarding the management decision making processes within Business for Scotland;

The paragraph which particularly piqued my interest read as follows:

He [Chairman Tony Banks] added that SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – described as ‘PM’ in emails – believed there was duplication in the Macintyre-Kemp and Thomson roles: “There have been remarks made by PM regarding having the both of you and the fact both of you should have been fund raising over the last few months! He does not think that we need both of you.”

The report went on to detail how one of the individuals referred to (Ms Thomson) subsequently had her consultancy contract terminated and was no longer paid for her role. It seems clear that Peter Murrell had a direct influence on that decision (there may even be questions as to whether his influence means he would have been considered as a “Shadow Director” under the Companies Act (2006)).

Of course both The Scottish National Party (SNP) and Business for Scotland were registered referendum participants who – as I understand it – have to abide by your guidelines.

Your guidelines clearly state:

Campaigners can work together if they wish to do so. Some combined spending will count towards the limits for each campaigner involved. This is to stop people getting around the spending limits by coordinating several campaigns at the same time

The guidelines go on to clarify:

The guiding principle is that, in all cases, you should make an honest assessment, based on the facts, whether you or another campaigner are spending money as part of a common plan or arrangement.

In our view, you will be very likely to be working together if[ …] you coordinate your activity with another campaigner – for example, if you agree that you should each cover particular areas, arguments or voters; another campaigner can approve or has significant influence over your leaflets, websites, telephone scripts or other campaign materials

It appears to me that the Herald article offers evidence that – through Peter Murrell’s direct involvement - Business for Scotland and the SNP were indeed “working together” and that specifically the SNP were exerting influence over Business for Scotland’s fund-raising activities and expenditure.

I would be interested to know if this “working together” was declared and accounted for when assessing the spending limits of each of these campaigners. If it wasn’t, will the electoral commission be formally investigating the relationship between these two separately registered campaign organisations and assessing whether any electoral commission rules were broken or campaign spending limits breached?

Yours sincerely

Of course we knew all along that Business for Scotland were an SNP front organisation (as I detailed at the time > Who Do Business For Scotland Represent), but despite the laughably poor quality of their output it seems many media outlets were taken in.  As a direct result I'm sure some voters were fooled and I suspect well-meaning businesses were duped into becoming members of BfS.

They were brazen about this - let's not forget that their website stated very clearly:
"Business for Scotland is an independent and political party neutral business and economic policy think tank and network"
In fact at the time of writing they have the brass-neck to still state this on their website.

I raised this directly with Ivan McKee (one of their Directors and more vocal spokespeople) in a public debate during the referendum - he was outraged at the very suggestion that they might have close ties with the SNP. Possibly he was worried about electoral commission rules; I don't know.

But to learn that Peter Murrell may have been directly involved in the day-to-day management of BfS takes this to a whole new level. There are electoral commission spending limit limits for a reason. Imagine for a moment that there were suspicions that the Better Together campaigns had broken electoral commission rules - we'd be subject to a grievance frenzy, the usual suspects would be whipping up a crowd-funded mob. We'd never hear the last of it.

Of course had there been a Yes vote the participants all knew that any subsequent electoral commission investigation was hardly going to reverse it. Maybe that led the SNP to throw caution to the wind and go all in. It was, after all, a once in a generation opportunity.

I don't know if what we now know of Mr Murrells's involvement in Business for Scotland means any spending rules were broken - I trust the Electoral Commission to work that out and take any appropriate action.

One last thought: we only know about all of this because of the leaks triggered by the Michelle Thomson story.  If the SNP were hands-on with Business for Scotland, were they perhaps coordinating activities between other registered Yes campaigners as well?

I don't know what investigative powers the electoral commission have, but I hope they will be using them to the full.


Following the wide ranging coverage my letter to the electoral commission received in the national press I was alerted to another report on the leaked emails which suggested the Yes Scotland might also have been working together with BfS.

Today (12/10/1015) I have sent the following follow-up to the electoral commission

Dear Sirs

Further to my previous correspondence (below) I read today of another extract from the leaked emails as reported by journalist Paul Hutcheon

He highlights an email in which reference is made to Yes Scotland Head of Development Colin Pyle possibly attending Business for Scotland (BfS) board meetings.

One of the BfS board members Ivan McKee explicitly raises concerns that this would constitute “working together”.

It is unclear from the article if Mr Pyle had already attended BfS board meetings or how the debate was resolved with respect to future board meetings.

I trust that if you decide to investigate the issue of BfS possibly “working together” with other campaign organisations that you will directly address these questions:
  • Did Mr Pyle attend any BfS Board meetings (before or after this email exchange)?
  • If he did, did his attendance involve interventions or knowledge transfer that might constitute “working together”?

Finally: given we are now (by chance) aware of communications between the board of BfS and both Peter Murrell (of the SNP) and Colin Pyle (of Yes Scotland), will you be using your investigative powers to ascertain whether BfS may have been “working together” with any other representatives of these or other registered campaign bodies?

Yours Sincerely

Kevin Hague


Jonny said...

As you say the SNP couldn't have cared one iota what rules they broke as they were he'll bent on an irreversible YES vote and stuff the consequences

Paukrs said...

Excellent work Kevin and perfect timing. At last there may be some accountability . You can't fool all the people all the time etc.

Nial said...

Thanks for doing this Kevin, there's been a lot of talk about it on twitter but someone needed to make it 'official'.

Does yer man Spanner not deserve some credit?

Anonymous said...

I think there are actually two angles to this - first one is the SNP Chief Executive appearing to act as shadow director - but equally important is the lack of member directors on the BfS board (also highlighted in the emails leaked to The Herald). The evidence suggests that the BFS board may have been acting in accordance with the wishes of the shadow director rather than its own (unrepresented) membership.

Anonymous said...

Was the SNP also "working together" with Yes Scotland, by any chance?

Despite attempts to distance the two organisations (, there was then an £825,000 bailout ( Meanwhile, the SNP's website still sells "Yes" merchandise (

Anonymous said...

Isn't it odd, how immediately after the indyref was declared a victory for the No side, all the Cybernats and devoted followers, began screaming that it had all been a big fix by the BBC in league with the red tops and controlled by westmonster and how 'we woz robbed' etc, which has since been proven not to have been the case at all. Yet it is now slowly beginning to come out into the light, how it was the organisers of the SNP that had in fact been playing foul all along, as they tried to double-deal and background fix anything and everything they could.

Then there is the obvious but as yet undocumented, centralised control of the Cybernats, trained in the art of deflection, online bullying and intimidation. How were they recruited, trained and managed, to be used as a political weapon to threaten into quiet acquiescence, anyone who did not unquestioningly follow the SNP mantra.

You know one day, when all the swivel eyed types have gone away, I hope someone (perhaps yourself?) writes an in-depth, warts and all analytical study of all this and how frighteningly close it came to succeeding. It would be a really good read, as well as a warning to the future.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your efforts Kevin.

On a similar note, I'm not sure if the Electoral Commission (EC) have passed judgement on Wings over Scotland not supplying receipts and invoices etc. for its referendum spend, as it beggars belief that Mr Campbell, who has posted extensively on the "supposed" economic benefits to businesses of an independent Scotland, would have made such a fundamental business error of forgetting to record\supply receipts and invoices.

If that indeed is his excuse or that he misunderstood the rules and is let off, then I trust that there will be some mechanism within the EC's rules to allow the public to question their verdict and to highlight the fact that Mr Campbell has put himself across as a business "guru" these past few years and should therefore have known the very basic rule of business which is to record invoices and receipts and if in doubt, speak to the EC for advice.


David GREEN said...

Dear Kevin,

Thank you for this exercise in accountability. The SNP party look to me to be an aficianado of the one-part state, with particular emphasis on the cult of the "Dear Leader". I note that, despite Sturgeon's espousal of the correct line on Miss Thomson (innocent until proven guilty), the SNP under Sturgeon's leadership is already assuming she is guilty of something, even if it is only causing embarrassment. The dirty politics that appear to be the stock-in-trade of BfS remind me very much of Nixon and the Watergate break-in.

DJB said...

Dear Mr Hague -

Have just read the EC's pronouncement, then looked at their guidelines for assessing complaints (they use the term 'assess', rather than 'investigate'). It doesn't seem to me that they actually do very much, other than contact the person against whom the allegation is made (who would, of course deny it!). As such, I have just fired off the undernoted email to them.

If I'm not satisfied with what they come back with, I'm taking it up with my MSPs and the PM:

Dear Sir/Madam -

With reference to the above, please could you answer the following questions for me in regard to the decision not to investigate the relationship between the SNP and BFS, referring to your stated procedures:

1. "Reviewing documents provided to us"

Could you please list for me the documents provided to you which you reviewed, and from whom they were provided.

2. "Reviewing documents we already have"

Again, could you please list for me the documents you already had.

3. "Making initial inquiries of the subject of the allegation and other individuals or organisations where appropriate"

Please could you list for me the inquires that you made, the method of making them (eg, phone, email, letter), which individuals you approached, and what questions you asked.

I assume that you are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. This being the case, please treat this as a request for information under said Act.