SNP’s shameful silence on Tasmina and their risible track record on transparency

AS any meteorologist will attest, the notion that lightning cannot strike twice in the same place is a myth.

It is just as false in the political arena — as the briefest of glances at the SNP’s erstwhile Westminster contingent will show.

Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry were supposedly among the brightest and best of the party’s intake at the General Election in 2015.

But Mrs Thomson resigned the SNP whip in September 2015 when a Police Scotland investigation was launched into her mortgage deals, while Miss McGarry is facing a fraud trial.

Both were dropped from the Nationalist ranks, forcing them to sit as independent MPs before being deselected.

Now comes the Mail’s disclosure last week that leading SNP candidate Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a close ally of Alex Salmond’s, is being investigated by the Law Society of Scotland over allegations of financial impropriety.

The inquiry into professional misconduct centres on her time at Hamilton Burns WS, the law firm where she was a director before becoming an MP.

The timing of this revelation, during an election campaign in which the SNP is fast losing ground to the Tories, could hardly be worse.

If it transpires that the party knew about the Law Society probe before our story, and said nothing, allowing Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh to run for re-election, it would also raise fresh questions over the SNP’s candidate selection and vetting process.

Our story also sends another torpedo into the Nationalists’ repeated assertion that they are now the ‘real opposition’ at Westminster.

One can imagine the news was greeted with a volley of unprintable expletives by Nicola Sturgeon’s closest advisers.

However unwelcome it was, clearly there was an ethical obligation to voters to be as transparent as possible about the predicament in which Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh now found herself.

Yet, then the Mail first asked the SNP about the Law Society’s investigation last Wednesday, the response was a deafening silence.

In the interests of ensuring the party was afforded its right of reply, publication was postponed.

The timing here is important: last Thursday was the deadline for delivery of nomination papers for candidates running for election.

The story ran in Friday’s paper — still without a comment from the SNP — by which time Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh had been confirmed as the SNP candidate for Ochil and South Perthshire.

Under investigation: Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh

On Friday, she finally disclosed that she was indeed co-operating with the Law Society’s probe.

Miss Sturgeon said she was standing by her, and it emerged that Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh had known about the inquiry for months but failed to declare it publicly.

It is unclear whether or not this knowledge was shared with Miss Sturgeon, because she won’t say.

If the party knew about the investigation, why wasn’t this information divulged to voters in Ochil and South Perthshire?

And if the party didn’t know, why did Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh keep quiet?

It is hard to regard the silence which greeted our initial enquiries as anything other than a cynical attempt to stall the story until the nomination process was complete.

Yet, for many veteran observers of the inner workings of the SNP, none of this comes as much of a surprise.

For all its public proclamations of transparency and accountability, trying to keep the public in the dark has become second nature for the Nationalists.

After a decade in power, its tentacles extend into every conceivable area of public life.

The ongoing calamity at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) exemplifies this control freakery.

It is saddled with a lame duck chairman who has been accused of bullying and presiding over an organisation whose secretive methods have been likened to the Kremlin.

Andrew Flanagan is meant to be holding police top brass to account amid a cost-cutting programme necessitated by the SNP’s decision to amalgamate the former eight territorial forces in 2013.

Instead, he is fighting for his job amid a series of damaging allegations that he bullied a board member who later quit, while holding some committee meetings in private and keeping vital documentation from the public.

Opposition parties want Mr Flanagan to go, and Holyrood’s public audit committee has written to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson to raise concern about his ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.

Tellingly, MSPs have also questioned ‘the extent to which the Scottish Government has prior knowledge of SPA meetings and papers [and] the extent to which the Scottish Government seeks to comment on or otherwise influence papers and meetings’.

Political interference with a quango that is meant to be fearlessly independent is a serious charge — but given the SNP’s previous conduct, it seems a plausible one.

An investigation by Scotland’s information watchdog recently lambasted ministers for their ‘poor’ approach to Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

The Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, has also criticised the lack of progress in extending the scope of FOI, describing the power to do so as ‘woefully underused over the last 10 years’.

The Scottish Government has been reticent, too, in the disclosure of information about the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on overseas trips, such as Miss Sturgeon’s Easter jolly to the US (which also involved Mrs Ahmed-Sheikh).

On an earlier trip in June 2015, the First Minister and two officials spent four nights in the US — yet, according to the Scottish Government, all this cost the taxpayer was £1,164.

This figure does not include the officials’ travel, overnight and subsistence costs — only those of the First Minister.

Yet the Scottish Ministerial Code states that, for official overseas visits, details must be provided of ‘the names and designations of those who accompanied the Minister and the final costs of the visit including all flights and travel and subsistence costs’.

The SNP was also less than transparent over its abortive plans for local income tax.

Mr Salmond spent more than £100,000 of public money twice going to court to prevent the media reporting details of its implications.

In addition, he spent almost £20,000 of taxpayers’ money to keep secret legal advice about an independent Scotland’s European Union status that never even existed.

The Scottish Government employs scores of Press officers, collectively earning £1,037,791 a year.

Between them, they issue 2,000 Press releases a year about its activities — trumpeting its many alleged successes and trying to play down — or cover up — its myriad failures.

In addition, there are 12 special ministerial advisers who do not have to abide by the strict rule of civil service impartiality, yet have their remuneration entirely picked up by the public.

Last year, the dozen advisers cost the taxpayer £895,135.

All of which goes to show that spin is an expensive business — funded by taxpayers yet dedicated to concealing from them the truth about how government operates.

But when an administration has been in power for as long as the SNP, transparency becomes a low priority, lagging far behind the need for basic political survival — at any cost.