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SNP national officer coached activists to claim Covid support grants ‘for the indy cause’ then asked for donations

Dr Tim Rideout.
Dr Tim Rideout.

An SNP national officer coached independence activists to apply for lucrative coronavirus business grants “for the indy cause” then encouraged them to donate some of the cash to his own campaign group.

Dr Tim Rideout, who now sits on the SNP’s national policy development committee, asked for a “wee donation” to the Scottish Currency Group if activists were able to successfully claim £10,000 from the government scheme.

Dr Rideout is convener of the group, which describes itself as “people working towards the introduction of a Scottish currency as soon as practicable after Independence Day”.

Business support grants were introduced last year to help local firms struggling to cope under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

We revealed this week how SNP branches in Arbroath and Montrose have been ordered to pay back £20,000 of business support they should never have been given because the rules do not permit grants to political parties.

‘Rishi Washi’

In a post on the Scottish Currency Group Facebook page on July 8, Dr Rideout said it would be a “criminal waste” for Yes supporters to miss out on claiming the cash and boasted of making £50,000 “for the indy cause” in a single day through the scheme.

He wrote: “If you have any connection to any Yes group that either owns or is the tenant of shop premises, an office or similar then please ensure they have submitted an application for the Covid-19 business support grant of £10,000.”

In an apparent reference to UK chancellor Rishi Sunak, Dr Rideout added: “Yes, that is a free gift of £10,000 per premise (sic) that the lovely and kind Rishi Washi is handing out to Yes groups.”

A post on the Scottish Currency Group Facebook page on July 8 2020.

Dr Rideout, who was an ordinary SNP member at the time and works as a cartographer, offered individual support to Bill Golden, from Forfar Yes Hub, including information on what documents he would need to apply and how to resolve issues with the premises name and rates.

He wrote to Mr Golden: “If you get the £10k, perhaps you might consider a wee donation to the Currency Group. At the moment I pay for everything and I have not been able to sell any maps at events since March.”

Mr Golden replied: “I’m sure my committee would look on this favourably.”

Dr Rideout then sent a link to an application form on the Angus Council website and later directed Mr Golden to online forms to resolve issues with the claim, urging him not to delay because “queries can be dealt with later”.

He wrote: “Hopefully I have made over £50k for the indy cause today but it is strange how some folk are absolutely resistant to asking.

“The worst that can happen is they say no.”

A week later Mr Golden updated the group, confirming his application had been successful, along with Brechin Blether-In, and that he had been told hubs in Arbroath and Montrose would also be submitting bids.

He said an “urgent email” had been sent to all hubs in Scotland, adding: “It’s just the thought of Westminster money helping us get rid of Westminster.”

A further two weeks on, Mr Golden responded to a question from Dr Rideout about whether he had received the cash, stating he was successful “as were the other Angus hubs, I believe”.

He added: “Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about your help and I will be bringing it up when our committee next meets.”

Mr Golden did not respond to a request for comment but Dr Rideout stated: “Neither me personally nor the Scottish Currency Group received any money from any SNP branch, or indeed any Yes group in Angus.”

Dr Rideout posted again to the Facebook group on December 28, telling hubs they are able to apply for £3,000 for each four-week period their council area remains in tier four coronavirus restrictions.

He stated that he is directly aware of more than half a dozen Yes hubs who successfully obtained the earlier £10,000 grants, adding that “basically everyone who applied” was accepted, with only those who did not know or missed the deadline losing out.

Not a political party

After we approached Dr Rideout for comment, the posts and comment threads were deleted from the Scottish Currency Group Facebook page.

He said: “Yes groups are not a political party and therefore they are not excluded from claiming the grants available where they meet the requirements for occupying retail premises recorded as liable to business rates and the group is correctly recorded as the owner or occupier on the valuation roll.

“Having visited a number of such premises over the years, they all provide services such as selling goods, providing food and drink, running exhibitions, offering community events and similar.

“All of those activities are included in the list of activities eligible for the Covid grants. I am aware of nothing other than political bias in the council that would rule out a Yes club from that list.”

Dr Rideout later added that “no group that obtained a grant chose to take up my suggestion that they make a small donation to their fellow pro-independence Scottish Currency Group” and that no one donated to him personally.

Michael Marra, who is a candidate for the North East region at the Scottish Parliament election.

Scottish Labour North East candidate Michael Marra called on the SNP to “undertake an urgent investigation”.

He said: “This evidence points towards a co-ordinated scamming of the taxpayer and implicates national officers of the SNP.

“These funds were allocated to save jobs, businesses and to ensure families could put food on the table during a deadly pandemic.

“If it is proven that SNP members have scammed this system to obtain money for campaigning or for personal gain then that would be utterly disgraceful and serious consequences would have to follow.”

Angus branches told to pay back cash

Arbroath and Montrose SNP branches each made successful £10,000 business support grant applications to Angus Council last July for help under the lifeline scheme.

They have now been asked by Angus Council’s finance chief to refund the cash because grants cannot be paid out to political parties.

Responding to the story, shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “It is obscene that SNP branches thought it appropriate to line their own pockets with public money.

Ian Murray.

“This will come as a slap in the face to the scores of businesses across Scotland who have missed out on or had very little vital business support.

“This money must be returned to Angus Council immediately and those involved must apologise.”

Arbroath West and Letham SNP councillor Alex King, who is treasurer of the local branch, said he became aware of the business support grant through making an application for a charitable organisation for which he is a treasurer.

An SNP spokesman said: “Arbroath branch has returned the funds in full. Montrose branch was advised last week that the payment was made in error and is in the process of contacting the council to do likewise.”

‘Their own selfish cause’

Scottish Conservative parliamentary candidate Maurice Golden asked the SNP to reveal all party branches across the country that benefited from taxpayers’ support.

He said that if they are not willing to “come clean”, a police investigation may be necessary to examine whether fraud has occurred.

“The SNP need to investigate how widespread this problem is and come clean about how much they claimed in total,” Mr Golden said.

“If they won’t come clean, we may need a police investigation to examine if there has been an attempt at fraud here.

“This cash was designed to help honest businesses through a global pandemic which has cost thousands of lives in Scotland. Instead, the nationalists used it to line the pockets of their own selfish cause.”

‘The right thing to do’

Asked about the issue during an election campaign briefing with journalists on Friday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was aware of “at least 10 Tory associations in England which have claimed this money”.

“If I thought there was an appropriate use, in the spirit of the rules, it wouldn’t be getting paid back. The fact the SNP is paying it back, I think, is the right thing to do,” she said.

“I don’t think it is an appropriate use of public money, which is why the two SNP branches – one has already paid it back and one is in the process of paying it back.”