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Scottish Tories urged to review political donations after ‘dirty money’ allegations

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Stephen Bellany.

The Scottish Conservatives have been urged to carry out a review of their political donations after opponents accused the party of being marred with “dirty money”.

It comes after we revealed how the Tories accepted on April 6 – one month before the Scottish Parliament election – a £20,000 donation from a company with ties to one of the largest “black fish” scams in Europe.

It was donated by the Fraserburgh-based Unity Fishing Company Ltd, which is owned and run by four brothers.

The eldest brother, Stephen Bellany, was fined £35,000 in 2012 for his involvement in a wider £23 million scam to evade fishing quotas.

Cash received from city pub firm

The Scottish Conservatives have also come under pressure to hand back £20,000 from PB Devco, a major Aberdeen hospitality firm whose operations director pleaded guilty to dealing drugs from one its city bars, the Draft Project.

Paul Clarkson was charged following a visit by police on the same night the venue caused an uproar after video emerged showing Scotland supporters celebrating wildly together at the premises in an apparent breach of Covid rules.

Douglas Ross, Stuart and Paul Clarkson.

It was one of 28 north east venues linked to a coronavirus outbreak which led to local lockdown measures being imposed in Aberdeen.

PB Devco, which also owns bars and restaurants including Soul, the Howff and the Bieldside Inn, is headed up by Paul’s father Stuart.

It previously donated £20,000 to the Scottish Conservatives, although Paul Clarkson has never personally made a donation.

The party has refused to rule out taking more cash from the business in the future, with a spokesman stating all future donations “will be considered on a case to case basis”.

MSP’s plea to licensing board

Further questions were raised over the Tories’ relationship with the firm after it emerged North East MSP Liam Kerr had written to the licensing board of Aberdeen City Council asking for special treatment for one its pubs.

Mr Kerr wrote on July 28 urging the board to push through an application for the Draft Project, describing a “race against time” for it to open that weekend.

Liam Kerr

The MSP called for the committee to change how it handles applications, pointing to several other local authorities where they are agreed within just a few days.

A spokesman for the Mr Kerr said he was not aware of the donation and was just using the bar as an example to show “the strength of feeling” within the industry.

The licensing board convener, Marie Boulton, faced calls to resign after it emerged she granted permission for a 280-person marquee at the Draft Project within 72 hours, bypassing the required seven days for members of the public to comment on proposals.

Mrs Boulton previously stated the city would not fast-track any bids. She quit her role on Friday in the midst of another row about the pedestrianisation of Union Street.

A slippery slope of sleaze

SNP MP Neil Gray said: “As Westminster continues to slide down the slippery slope of sleaze, the Scottish Tories are mired in their own corruption scandal and Douglas Ross has left the door open to further dirty money donations coming into his party when they refused to rule out receiving money linked to criminal activity.

“If Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories have one shred of respect left for democracy in this country then they will conduct an internal inquiry into their party donations and root out any murky donations they receive.

“If they do not carry one out then they will be sending out a clear message that they do not care where their sources of funding come from.”

In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, William Tait Senior, a director of Klondyke Fishing Company Ltd, made two donations to the Yes campaign, worth £150,000.

It was reported at the time that four other members of his family had previously admitted illegally landing herring and mackerel, as part of the black fish scam.

The Scottish Conservatives were approached for comment.

7 sleaze scandals hanging over the Tories as calls for action grow