Monday, 12 October 2015

A question of independence

I wrote a piece recently on the internal wrangling last year in the pro-independence Business for Scotland, based on a tranche of leaked board-level emails.

Much of the content centred on the role of BfS “managing director” Michelle Thomson - yes, her - who was allowed to keep the title after having her consultancy payments axed.

The row played into a wider split between, on the one side, board members Thomson and Ivan McKee (who is now an SNP Holyrood candidate), and BfS chief executive Gordon Macintyre-Kemp.

The emails also appeared to confirm widely held suspicions about "close" links between BfS and the SNP.

In an email to senior BfS figures on March 30th last year, ex-chair Tony Banks threw SNP chief executive Peter Murrell’s name (PM) into the mix:

“There have been remarks made by PM regarding having the both of you [Kemp and Thomson] 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.”

This is interesting because the Electoral Commission had strict rules in place about separate campaign groups “working together” during the referendum. The email has now triggered a complaint to the Commission.

However, other emails reveal there was a board split about the closeness of BfS to Yes Scotland, which was the official pro-independence campaign group.

McKee was of the view that, to comply with Commission rules, Yes Scotland Head of Development Colin Pyle had to be excluded from BfS board meetings.

In an email to board members on May 13th, he wrote: “Frankly struggling to see how someone in the payroll of Yes Scotland coming to a BfS meeting can be classed as anything other than ‘working together’.”

Others disagreed, but McKee persisted: “The biggest risk to the organisation is for us to realise that there are serious non-compliance risks and to ignore those. There is no bigger gift to the No campaign than that.”

It is unclear how the Pyle issue was resolved. Perhaps it is something for further enquiry.