The murky world of Tories’ dark money donations finally exposed

Over the past week, there have been some pretty damning revelations emerging over how the Scottish Tories are being bankrolled.

Investigations by BBC Spotlight Northern Ireland, the Ferret website and openDemocracy website have found that Scottish Tory members have directly benefited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds through murky donations.

It sounds like a script from House of Cards but there are now questions to be answered by Scottish Tory Leader Ruth Davidson.

BBC Spotlight brought to light the conduct of Richard Cook, the chairman of the Constitutional Research Council, a former vice chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland and a previous Tory candidate for East Renfrewshire.

The investigators uncovered an alleged “trail of involvement in illegal activity and foreign money”. They also revealed that Cook was behind the DUP’s controversial £435,000 donation during the EU referendum. It’s claimed that Cook has links to the very highest levels of the Scottish Tory Party.

Davidson must clarify what connection she has to him and whether her party have helped themselves to money from dubious sources. And that’s not all.

Details from the Electoral Commission show that a so-called “trust” – the Scottish Unionist Association Trust (SUAT) – have given an eye-watering £318,876 to the Tories between April 9, 2001 and February 28, 2018.

There’s nothing wrong with the figure – this is about the source of the cash and what the Scottish Tory Party knew about them and what they potentially chose to overlook.

Under the law, it is down to political parties to make sure that any donations they receive come from a valid and permissible source. Parties are allowed to accept funds from trusts as long as they fulfil the set criteria. However, it turns out that SUAT do not meet that criteria.

In fact, there’s not a lot of information out there for the public to see about SUAT – an entity who for years have topped up the Scottish Tory piggy bank. No one knows who manages SUAT, what their assets are or who their donors are.

Yet, Davidson and her party saw no issue with that. When donations to parliamentarians are, in some cases, close to £10,000 each, constituents have a right to know where that money is coming from.

Last week, SNP MP Pete Wishart wrote to the Electoral Commission calling for a full investigation and just yesterday, another colleague Martin Docherty-Hughes MP wrote to Davidson asking her to be transparent.

The Scottish Tories are up to their necks in dark money and it’s time the Electoral Commission zeroed in on these shady practices. The question for Davidson now is, will she come clean?

Or will she instead continue to accept dodgy donations with one hand, while shaking the hands of constituents with the other?