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Friday, December 14, 2007

SNP walk into planning row

The Liberal Democrats have said that the Scottish government's involvement in Donald Trump's Aberdeenshire golf resort plan "smells of sleaze".

The BBC report that the accusation was made at the same time as Aberdeenshire Council confirmed it had terminated a call with the government's chief planner, because Mr Trump's team was there:

First Minister Alex Salmond said he had followed the rules "to the letter".

The government decided to "call in" the plans for the Menie Estate the same day that its chief planner, Jim McKinnon, held talks with Mr Trump's team, to explain the role of Scottish ministers in planning applications and appeals.

The proposals had been narrowly rejected by Aberdeenshire councillors. During question time at Holyrood, Mr Salmond also came under pressure for meeting with Mr Trump's representatives.

He is forbidden from taking part in the planning process and has insisted that, because the plans fell into his Gordon constituency, he was duty bound to meet people on all sides.

Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen said: "This is a serious situation for the first minister and his government. Every step of the way there is contradiction, concealment and cleverness from his government on this issue. It smells of sleaze."

Mr Salmond told MSPs that he was not present at the discussion between the council and Mr McKinnon, adding: "Its not my responsibility. I am debarred from any decision-making in the planning process. Why on earth would I therefore know the answer to that question since I was not in the room or with the chief planner at the time."

The report continues:

In a statement, the council's chief executive Alan Campbell said he had conducted two phone calls with the chief planner on the afternoon of 4 December.

"The first call was about the procedure which Aberdeenshire Council were likely to adopt at their special meeting. It was in that context that the chief executive was informed by the chief planner that members of the Trump organisation were in the chief planner's room.

The chief executive asked that they leave the room. The discussion then took place."

The council said Mr Campbell received a call from the chief planner several hours later on the issue of ministers calling in the application, adding: "There was no question of the Trump organisation being with the chief planner at that time."

Aberdeenshire Council have now removed the chair of the Planning Committee, whose casting vote ensured that this application was rejected in the first place. In my opinion that is a disgraceful act which will compromise the future independence of the planning process by putting pressure on Councillors to tow a popularist line rather than act according to their own conscience.
What about claims reported in today's Cardiff Echo newspaper of the Liberal Democrat in party donation ‘cover-up’????

Why do you print stories about sleaze in Scotland but ignore the sleaze smell wafting around the Welsh Lib-Dems.
There is no sleaze. It is a late declaration. It is what happens when you have volunteers running local parties. They are not the full time professionals envisaged by out-of-touch civil servants when they drew up the Political Parties Elections and Referendum Act. It is also common across all local parties of all persuasions.
Why don't the SNP and the Aberdeen Golf Developers ask two past Lord Mayors from Swansea to come up to Scotland as Consultants in this Planning Row? Lap Top Lawrence Bailey who has three years leave as a Councillor and has a Consultancy called "White Roock". Then there is daft Des Thomas who has a month's leave as a Councillor who claims to know more about Planning Law than anyone else.
I am cc’ing this to my blog to make sure that this is post is posted for everyone to see.

I’m sorry, but your response, “It is also common across all local parties of all persuasions” is totally inadequate and rather alarming because you seem to be saying that your party is not in compliance with the law on disclosure of donations.

What you are not getting right now is that the alleged cover up is the issue here.

According to the Echo, accountant Mark Hooper, your party’s former treasurer, wrote to a letter to Kay Jenkins, head of the Electoral Commission in Cardiff. In the letter Mr. Hooper wrote: “Officers of the Welsh party attempted to persuade me that any reporting of non-compliance could have political consequences for the party and may potentially be seen as a disciplinary issue … I have become concerned that the party would rather cover up the issue than deal with it. As a result of this unwarranted pressure, I have resigned from the (Lib-Dem) party in order that I can write to you requesting an investigation.”

It is troubling that an AM of your stature would be so flippant in your response to what is a very serious allegation from a former treasurer.

Why did Mark Hooper provide “a dossier of evidence including minutes of (Lib-Dem) party meetings”?

Do you know what’s in the minutes now filed with the Electoral Commission?

It seems the Echo is reporting that your ‘leader’ is distancing himself from this issue; according to the Echo, Mr. German “asked whether it (the disclosure) was compliant and was told at the executive (meeting) last Saturday that it was.”

Peter, your flippant response conflicts with response from Mike German, the leader of your Party.

Your executive is telling Mr. German there is no issue, you admitted that there was a mistake, and Mike German feels the need to distance himself by using what he was told last Saturday was that the disclosure was compliant.

Whatever is going on, your party needs to be “straight and transparent” with the people.

Right now we have your leader trying to build a concrete bunker around himself; you admitting that there was a mistake, but that it resulted from “volunteers”; and Mr. Hopper, accountant and now ex-Treasurer, filing a complaint with the Electoral Commission in which he expressly states that he issued several warnings but was put under pressure not to report the donation.

I’m sorry, but the law states that your party must report all political donations. IT IS ILLEGAL to tell an officer in the party to hold back from reporting such donations – this alleged cover up is VERY SERIOUS for your party.
I am sorry Christopher but not only are you talking nonsense but you are deliberatively misinterpreting the situation. I think we should allow the Electoral Commission decide whether the party has failed to comply with legislation in this case rather than leaping to conclusions on the basis of a distorted and largely inaccurate newspaper article.

My understanding is that the only problem is that the standard and regular disclosure to the Electoral Commission is late and that this will be put right. Nobody was told not to report any donation. Mark Hooper was asked not to go running to the press over a matter that was being sorted. He was not asked to hide a crime because none has been committed.

Please note I am not publishing any anonymous comments on this issue. If you have something to say put your real name to it and keep it legal.
Is it not a little disingenuous to comment on a 'sleaze' story reported in the papers/internet and then to discourage discussion on a similar story because other bloggers aren't in possession of the full facts?

In any case, the story here isn't sleaze, it's the loss of a former councillor who has stood as a parliamentary and assembly candidate in the most recent elections.

In my dealings with Mark on a local level (I was agent for a different party in the Assembly election), he has always been very committed to the Lib Dem cause, very industrious and keen to speak his mind when he felt it right to do so.

Put simply, if he thinks that this is a resignation issue from your party, then I'm willing to take him at his word. If, as Peter seems keen to do, the Lib Dems simply sweep it under the carpet, then all you're doing is justifying his decision to quit.

If you're reading this, Mark, then best of luck at whatever you turn your hand to next.
I am not seeking to discourage comment, just trying to clarify the facts. I have after all posted very critical comments from Christopher Wood right up to the point when he started to get really tedious and started to repeat himself.

My last comment was to make it clear to trolls from other parties that I am not going to allow them to use this blog as a weapon to beat us with if they do not have the guts to use their own name.

I do not accept that this is even a sleaze story much as our opponents would wish it to be. As I understand it a donation was made which was not declared for a number of reasons, not all of which I am clear about. That donation has now been declared. There has been no attempt to sweep it under the carpet.

As Treasurer of South Wales Central Mark could have declared it himself though I accept that he was not treasurer at the time it was made and I believe he had difficulties pinning down the details. These things happen when political parties are run by volunteers.

As for Mark's resignation from the party, I agree with you entirely. He is a major loss and I hope that he reconsiders. I know that he has been dissatisfied for some time and I do not think that this donation is the only reason for him going.
Christopher Wood has a Blog site that I've looked at a few times. It never has any COMMENTS indicating it never provokes debate or worse still nobody reads it. I gave up on it. So he resorts to commenting on other Blogs his thoughts and does not contribute to debate or constructive criticism. Is he USA based?
going back to the original featute - possible snp involvement iwth trump and his money - recalls the staggering snp turnabout on the issue of bringing transport back under 'regulation' This was their policy prior to recieving over half a million pounds from born again christian bigot and owner of the private stagecoach transport brian souter! Curiously 'regulation' of transport in scotland has now been dropped by the snp! No wonder so many peole become cynical about politics in the uk!
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