AN Edinburgh-born academic spent much of yesterday backtracking after releasing a hornets' nest by declaring that the SNP was in danger of jumping into bed with right-wing US Caledonian Societies in much the same way as Sinn Fein had courted the American Irish.
Dr Euan Hague, 27, of Staffordshire University, told the Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers' conference on Thursday that the SNP was busy recruiting some rather unsavoury groups in the United States including those with white supremacist links. His evidence was seemingly based on the undoubted growth of tartan organisations in America, where it is estimated ten million can claim Scottish descent.
This was coupled with his own experience at a Highland Games in the US where he saw SNP recruiting literature bearing the addresses of the party's headquarters in Edinburgh and an office in Portland, Oregon, being distributed.
In his paper, Dr Hague cited the fact that the US Senate, encouraged by Trent Lott, its Republican leader, last year unanimously passed a resolution designating April 6 (the day the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320) as National Tartan Day.
His opinions have infuriated the SNP, particularly as the party immediately renounced donations from abroad on publication of recommendations in the Neill committee's report, which frowned on this kind of fund-raising effort.
Dr Hague admitted yesterday that he had not spoken to the SNP before delivering his paper. He accepted that the last published financial report from the party, showing it had received less than #2000 in donations from outside the UK, was accurate.
He also accepted that the Oregon office of the SNP was closed down two years ago as it was thought to be ineffective because it cost more to keep the office open than any money it raised. On that basis, he conceded the recruiting material he had come across had to be out of date. Dr Hague recently returned to the UK, having lived in America for four years. He had studied the marketing of Scottishness when reading for his PhD at Syracuse university in New York.
Yesterday Dr Hague said he had never claimed there were explicit links between the SNP and right-wing Scottish groups in the US. What concerned him was that the party could fall into the trap of identifying with them.
He was delighted that the SNP had now made it clear they would have no truck with any such organisation in the US.
Dismissing Dr Hague's conclusions in his paper to the geographical conference at Leicester University, Mr Michael Russell, chief executive of the SNP, said the party was the most left-wing in Scotland. He often received mail from the US criticising policies.
Referring to right-wing US groups, he said: ''They are not bedfellows. If they do try to jump into bed with us, they soon jump out the other side.''
Mr Russell said that the SNP worked in the USA through a political agent in Washington and through a limited number of members, all of whom were eligible to vote in the UK.
''We have no future plans to raise any money except in keeping with the Neill Committee recommendations, a fact already reflected in our official literature and on our web site. The SNP's civic, left-of-centre nationalism is of growing popularity in Scotland as every poll shows. It repels those who believe in ethnicity or narrow chauvinism.''