Saturday, December 15, 2007

First Minister Salmond turns to golf to avoid realities of dealing with Scotland's problems

It has certainly been an eventful week for the First Minister Alex Salmond and the SNP Government as appearances reveal a preference to golfing developments than tackling the nations ills, inadequacies in the legal system & the now many broken SNP election promises ...

The Herald reports :

Salmond ‘putting Trump golf plan in danger’


First Minister Alex Salmond was yesterday warned that Donald Trump's plans for a £1bn golf resort in Aberdeenshire could collapse because of the way his government has dealt with it.

Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, also accused Mr Salmond of refusing to answer "key questions" about his meeting with two of the American tycoon's representatives the day before the Scottish Government took control of the application.

Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure services committee kicked out Mr Trump's controversial plans but John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, announced on December 4 that he was calling it in to allow ministers to examine the proposals.

As the First Minister, Mr Salmond is barred from any involvement in the planning process but has insisted he met Mr Trump's representatives on December 3 in his capacity as MSP for Gordon, the constituency in which the resort would be based.

It also emerged on Thursday that the same Trump representatives, George Sorial and Neil Hobday, met the government's chief planner, Jim McKinnon, on the day the application was called in by the government and they were in the room with him when Mr McKinnon placed a call to Aberdeenshire Council's chief executive. Government officials have insisted the that ministerial code of conduct has not been broken.

Ms Goldie yesterday accused the First Minister of being "evasive and obstructive" when questioned during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood on Thursday.

She added: "If the First Minister's conduct or the actions of his government and his officials have in any way prejudiced the planning process and put at risk the outcome by opening it up to challenge, then the Scottish Government is culpable.

"So far, this has been a tale of denial, cover-up and evasion. If this application fails, and Scotland loses this billion-pound investment, the Scottish Government will only have itself to blame."

Meanwhile, the war of words continued yesterday between the SNP and Nicol Stephen, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, who told Mr Salmond on Thursday that there was "smell of sleaze" about the affair.

Mr Salmond yesterday accused Mr Stephen of engaging in "wildly irresponsible gutter politics", adding: "He launched a cowardly attack on Jim Mackinnon, a public official who does not have the right to defend himself."

SNP back bencher Alex Neil described Mr Stephen's comments as "unacceptable" and called on him to apologise but a LibDem spokesman said: "This is a disgraceful attempt by the SNP to divert attention away from their disgraceful mismanagement and potentially prejudicial actions on the Trump case.

"Once Alex Neil had ambitions to lead the SNP; now he is reduced to spinning for a government whose probity is in question."

Salmond in ‘sleaze’ row over calls and Trump meetings


Read Robbie Dinwoodie's blog verdict here

Alex Salmond has been accused of sleaze over the Scottish Government's handling of the planning application for a £1bn golf resort in Aberdeenshire by the Trump organisation.

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

But a furious Mr Salmond yesterday called on Mr Stephen to apologise and withdraw criticisms of the government's chief planning officer Jim McKinnon who, as a civil servant, was not in a position to defend himself.

The LibDems focused on the fact that on the day the application was called in by ministers Mr McKinnon placed a telephone call to Aberdeenshire Council's chief executive while representatives of Mr Trump were present in his office.

This story changed in the course of the day when it was made clear that the later phone call telling the council the application was being called in was separate from the one in which Trump officials had to be asked to leave the room.

For the Conservatives the issue was the use of an official limousine for Mr Salmond to attend what was said to be a constituency meeting with Trump representatives and the claim, later denied, that a government special adviser accompanied him during the journey to the meeting.

Labour mounted a different attack, with Lord Foulkes, the Lothian MSP, pointing out that two days before the decision to call in the application Finance Secretary John Swinney had attended an event in New York held at a Trump venue.

But the government said the Global Scots conference had been organised by VisitScotland, the venue was hired at commercial rates and Mr Swinney has never met Mr Trump or members of his organisation.

Mr Stephen asked the First Minister: "Will he now have an independent inquiry to investigate what happened in those 48 hours last Monday and Tuesday?"

Mr Salmond insisted his behaviour on the matter had "followed exactly the rule book".

Tory leader Annabel Goldie accused the First Minister of breaching the ministerial code by meeting members of the Trump organisation in the days between Aberdeenshire Council rejecting the application and it being called in by ministers.

"Astonishingly, he was not even-handed, he was cackhanded," she said.

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