Political groups applying for public money in the event of a crisis similar to the Covid pandemic could be forced to turn over their accounts following a row over grants to pro-independence “Yes hubs”.
Conservative councillors in Angus are calling for new measures that would see politics-related public spending checked over by the authority’s scrutiny and audit committee.
It comes after local activists were urged to repay tens of thousands of pounds in Covid support grants they received after being coached by an SNP national officer to raise funds “for the indy cause”.
Request for engagement with hubs
It is understood the push for new rules will include a request for engagement with Blether In hubs in Brechin and Forfar.
The hubs operate independently from the SNP or any other political party.
They each received £10,000 from Angus Council after being encouraged to apply by Dr Tim Rideout – the director of a maps company who was tasked with establishing a currency policy for the SNP.
Dr Rideout, who has since taken a place on the SNP’s national policy development committee, asked for a “wee donation” to his own Scottish Currency Group if independence activists were able to successfully claim £10,000 with his help.
He says no such donation was ever made.
The activists say they were entitled to apply for the cash and it was up to Angus Council to refuse the claims if they were inappropriate.
‘Questions need to be answered’
Under the new proposals, organisations would be required to produce receipts to establish how the money was spent.
Arbroath East and Lunan Conservative councillor Derek Wann said: “I think there are questions which need to be answered about the SNP, these groups and whether any of this money is being properly accounted for.
“The Covid money which went to the Yes groups in Angus was a very clear example of non-accountable groups benefitting from taxpayer money.”
Business support grants were introduced to help local firms struggling to cope under the strain of the pandemic.
It later emerged that a number of Conservative associations in England had also successfully applied for the funding.
During a now deleted online conversation with Bill Golden from Forfar Blether In, Dr Rideout boasted of raising tens of thousands of pounds “for the indy cause” from the “free gift of £10,000” being handed to Yes groups.
What was the money spent on?
Mr Golden has repeatedly failed to answer questions about what the money received by the Forfar group was spent on.
Angus SNP councillor Kenny Braes is involved with the Brechin hub and said their grant was used “basically to pay the rent and overheads we need to pay to keep going so we can open again”.
Mr Wann said: “The murk of this has never been cleared up. And it’s clear the connections between the SNP and various aligned groups need to be made transparent.
“That’s why we are proposing a measure to Angus Council, which will draw clear, accountable connections when political groups benefit, in the event of a similar circumstance to the pandemic.”