Questionable Donors - The Case for Party Funding Reform
Author: Georgia Arlott
Published on Aug 01, 2012
The media furore over the ‘cash for access’ scandal has died down, but the Scottish Conservative Party have been bracing themselves for media questions regarding their former Party Treasurer, Malcolm Scott.
Scott, an Edinburgh based millionaire and a key figure in Scottish Conservative politics in the past seven years, has donated £1.6 million to the Party and enjoys personal friendships with several influential Cabinet members. However, Scott’s recent bankruptcy has raised suspicions over the legitimacy of his donations. The tycoon, who built much of his fortune on grain and property interests, is currently being investigated by Ernst & Young among other financial groups who are seeking to recover some of his missing assets, including the proceeds from the sales of his private jet and 18,600 tonnes of barley. Ernst & Young are also questioning the whereabouts of a pair of silver and Persian rugs, estimated to be worth more than £45,000.
Should it come to light that these financial dealings were not entirely above board, they would be reminiscent of the much-publicised discovery of Michael Brown’s fraudulent activities. Brown, who provided a record £2.4 million to the Liberal Democrats in 2005, is now serving seven years in prison for defrauding investors of £36 million.
Scott’s case reopens the debate into party funding and cash for access. In the light of disquieting revelations about key party donors, it is more important than ever to question the suitability of those individuals who fund our democracy. Since substantial donations of the Brown and Scott variety often result in private meetings and dinners with prominent politicians - and even in peerages - the sources of these handouts are of real concern.
This latest disclosure is alarming enough to prompt a renewal of the debate surrounding party funding, both from individuals and trade unions. If an alternative approach to this issue is not introduced, political parties will undoubtedly face yet more damaging scandals and the public will lose ever greater confidence in the legitimacy and credibility of the political parties they vote for.
Whilst cross party talks on the future of party funding are happening, it is time to call on politicians to make these discussions a priority, as failure to act will leave questions about the integrity of our democracy unanswered. It may be against the economic interests of political parties, but a cap on donations will be essential if we are to solve what has become a major issue.