Scottish independence: Call for Better Together to return Ian Taylor donation

By Glenn Campbell
BBC Scotland news

Image caption,
Mr Taylor has given the largest donation to the Better Together campaign

First Minister Alex Salmond has called on the Better Together campaign to return the £500,000 donation it received from businessman Ian Taylor.

Mr Taylor, chief executive of the oil trading firm Vitol, gave the money in a personal capacity to help secure a "no" vote in the independence referendum.

But Alex Salmond questioned the donation because of controversy over some of Vitol's past business dealings.

Better Together said it was a "valid donation" and would be retained.

In 2007, Vitol was heavily fined by a New York court after admitting making payments to the national oil company in Saddam Hussein's Iraq which were outside the UN's oil for food programme.

Vitol is also reported to have paid $1m to the notorious Serbian paramilitary Arkan as part of an oil deal in the 1990s. The company said it had not acted illegally.

In a BBC interview, Mr Salmond said: "The problem is the range of activities which is suggested that the company have been involved in.

"I think the Better Together campaign should examine this and return the money in the same way as the Labour Party argued that the Conservatives should return the money when a donation was made to them."

Labour MSP Elaine Smith said that while she had not studied details of the donation it should be "closely looked at".

"I think if there's anything suspicious in any way at all about donations then of course they should be handed back," she added.

'Valuable donation'

But Better Together campaign director Jackie Baillie MSP said she did not have a problem accepting Mr Taylor's money.

"This is a valuable donation which we will put to good use," she said.

Ms Baillie also pointed out that Mr Taylor had made important investments in the Harris tweed industry on the Western Isles, a constituency represented at Holyrood and Westminster by the SNP.

"Is the first minister equally suggesting that Mr Taylor should disinvest from Harris tweed?" she said. "I don't think he's said that today."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also defended the use of Mr Taylor's money.

He said: "If it's good enough for Harris tweed, it should be good enough for Better Together."

Largest donation

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson declined to say whether or not she had any issues with the donation citing "legal ramifications".

A website run by a campaigning group of artists and writers, know as National Collective, said lawyers for Vitol and Mr Taylor had threatened to sue them over an online article questioning the company's activities.

National Collective director Ross Colquhoun said: "Such corporate bully boy tactics are an attack on freedom of speech. We will not be silenced or bullied by legal intimidation."

A Vitol spokeswoman said the company was pleased the National Collective had chosen to incorporate some of its comments in a revised article. She added: "However, factual inaccuracies remain."

Mr Taylor has made the single largest donation to the Better Together campaign for Scotland to remain in the UK.

The rival Yes Scotland campaign for independence received its biggest contribution from the lottery millionaires, Chris and Colin Weir.

The vote in the Scottish independence referendum will be held on 18 September next year.