SUMMARY OF INTERVIEW WITH WENDY ALEXANDER MSP 18 April 2008 1. I am Wendy Alexander, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Paisley North and Leader of the Labour Group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. I am accompanied at interview by Ben Kemp, solicitor with Shepherd and Wedderburn.

2. I am aware that the complaint under investigation, from Iain Fraser, is that I failed to register in the Register of Members' Interests, within the required timescale, donations above £520 in value to my leadership election campaign.

The leadership campaign 3. The campaign extended from the announcement of my candidature on 15 August 2007 to my election unopposed on 14 September 2007. I have previously provided to you Standards Commissioner details of 10 donations over £520 and information on how the WA campaign fund was handled and arrangements for its use. Tom McCabe (Campaign Manager), David Whitton (Campaign Treasurer) and Jackie Baillie were the three people identified on a submission to the Labour Party as accountable for expenditure of the fund. There were around nine Members altogether directly associated with the campaign, all except two helping to solicit funds. All contact with the Electoral Commission at every stage was by my volunteer Campaign Coordinator.

Loading article content

Advice from the Standards Clerks 4. You Standards Commissioner said in correspondence in January 2008 that it wasn't clear whether there was a dual reporting requirement; you required further legal advice before deciding on the admissibility of the complaint. When the matter was referred to the Area Procurator Fiscal/Crown Office, they noted that there was a degree of uncertainty about interpretation of the provisions. However when I approached the Standards Clerks for advice on 8 November 2007, I received unambiguous advice from them in writing that there was no requirement to register these donations to my leadership election campaign in the Register of Members' Interests. When I spoke with them earlier on that day, they said to me that they were going to consult the Parliament's lawyers, and I have since confirmed that there is written correspondence between the Clerks and the lawyers. Had there been any ambiguity at that stage in the advice received from either the Clerks or the Parliamentary lawyers, I would have acted upon it. I also note that there is no guidance in Volume 3 of the current edition of the Code of Conduct in respect of registration of interests, including guidance on interaction with the Electoral Commission regime.

5. I confirm that I had a verbal discussion with one of the Clerks on the 8 November 2007 prior to the email exchange regarding advice on registration of the donations; you Standards commissioner provided me with a copy of the Clerk's note of that discussion, with which I did not take issue. It did say that " any donation could be considered as a gift if it passed the threshold and the prejudice test " but it also said that I explained that the money was donated to a separate account to which I did not have access. That issue, of direct ownership or control of the money, featured in the subsequent email advice and I was told that I need not register the donations either under "gifts" or "election expenses".

6. During September/October 2007, my campaign team had already asked advice of the Standards Clerks; I believe this was done verbally. They asked whether there was a dual reporting requirement and were told "no". We were told that discussions were underway between the Standards Clerks and the Electoral Commission in order to avoid a dual reporting requirement (perhaps we should have asked for clarity about the exact terms and status of those discussions); we asked if any previous leadership election had ever given rise to an entry on the Register of Members' Interests and were told "no" (which confirmed our own understanding from inspection of the Register); and we asked if the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 changed the requirements in relation to this and the Clerks said "no, apart from the threshold" - this had previously been £250.

Multiple, smaller donations 7. When we embarked on the campaign we decided to solicit a large number of donations so that there could be no claim of influence, or undue influence. The legal limit in PPERA was £1000 for undue influence, so we decided not to accept any donations in excess of that. This was not so as to avoid acknowledging who these individuals were, because we had made clear we would report voluntarily to the Electoral Commission; it was to say "politics is not bought". We wished to avoid funding the campaign by any single significant donation; avoiding the perception that the campaign had been funded by a "sugar daddy", which we did not consider was in the wider interests of Scottish politics. The amount you can raise is set by the Labour Party - it is not open ended. We set out to raise £15000.

8. In retrospect I regret not going to two individuals and saying "give us £7,500 each". It is just so onerous with over twenty donations to establish legal residency, whether donations were given on a corporate cheque or a personal cheque, whether they were domiciled in this country and on the Electoral Register, that you will fail.

9. Although it was intended not to exceed the reporting threshold of £1000, I was determined to make a voluntary report to the Electoral Commission in the interests of transparency. However, it may be that the individuals donating could have had an expectation of privacy, as the Members soliciting the donation may have explained that donations under £1000 were not required to be published by the Electoral Commission.

Voluntary report to the Electoral Commission 10. The voluntary report to the Electoral Commission was made by my Campaign Coordinator on 7 November 2007. The last donation was banked on 5 November. Although we were reporting on a voluntary basis, we intended to comply with the Electoral Commission reporting requirements which would have applied had we received any donations over £1000.

11. The voluntary return to the Electoral Commission was not signed by me. We originally thought I would have to sign it but the Electoral Commission said not, as it was voluntary. I did not see the submission, as submitted, until I obtained a copy on the 8 November, and would not have known who was on it. This was consistent with the deliberate "keep Wendy away from the money" approach.

I asked Ms Alexander "But hadn't she written a thank you letter to Paul Green on 5 October 2007"?

12. I knew some of the donors but not all of them, and I had no idea of the timescale of the receipt of donations. Regarding the "thank you" letters, a staff member obtained a list from campaign members of all those from whom the team had attempted to solicit a donation. The first batch of letters was signed on 5 October based on those from whom David Whitton's assistant said monies had been received.

13. On the 8 November I had a long-arranged meeting with Ian Leitch1, to discuss the Leaders' Allowance and other leadership related issues. I raised the issue of reporting the campaign donations with him, including whether dual reporting was required, and he suggested getting an opinion in writing from the Clerks.

14. Just after that meeting my press team informed me of a call from Electoral Commission staff informing them that Paul Hutcheon2had been pressing them for a copy of the voluntary return. In retrospect, it appears he had a leaked copy of a piece of internal correspondence from the team and knew I would be making a voluntary return.

15. I accept that there are inaccuracies in the list of donations submitted by my Campaign Coordinator to the Electoral Commission on 7 November 2007. You Standards Commissioner and the Electoral Commission have subsequently been provided with complete, accurate data.

16. Paul Green does not appear on the list. His donation is recorded against the name "Combined Property Services". I believed that the donation had been made on behalf of Combined Property Services. That matter was investigated and considered in detail by the Electoral Commission. In a few cases, there was ambiguity as to whether donations were given personally by an individual with a controlling interest in a company or from a corporate account. Donations from the Phoenix Car Company and Strathvale Holdings were erroneously listed as arising from individuals and Paul Green's donation was erroneously listed as a corporate donation. Again, the Electoral Commission has been provided with full and complete information in the context of its investigation. The Commission's judgement later was that there was a breach of the 30 day reporting requirement in relation to Paul Green's cheque - there is a £200 reporting threshold for impermissible donations. I did inadvertently break the law on the 30 days on Paul Green. I was totally unaware of the date on which it had been received or that it was the first one banked; in that sense it was a technical breach.

I pointed out to Ms Alexander that the dates given for receipt or banking of the donations on the voluntary return all between 19 and 25 October 2007 differed markedly from the dates supplied to me in December 2007 by her solicitor along with copies of the cheques and some pages of the campaign bank accounts. For example Paul Green's cheque was banked on 31 August 2007 but it is recorded on the voluntary return as being received/banked on 23 October 2007. By the time of the first receipt recorded on the voluntary return, over £7000 had in fact been withdrawn from the account. From the later information, six donations had been received prior to 9 October 2007 and four had certainly been banked by then. The significance of 9 October is that it is 30 days before 8 November, when Ms Alexander sought advice from the Clerks. I asked her how it came about that such inaccurate date information was provided to the Electoral Commission, and if she accepted that her seeking of advice from the Clerks had occurred after the 30 day limit for registering interests in relation to around half of the relevant donations?The Electoral Commission were I understand in dialogue with my Campaign Coordinator. Given that this was a voluntary submission, which they had at our request agreed to accept, it may be that they did not have reason to be concerned with the dates recorded on the submission. In relation to the timing of my asking of advice from the Clerks, I accept now what you say about the timing but I was not aware of it at the time. My understanding was that there was no dual reporting requirement. Also my email to the Clerks on 8 November wasn't our first enquiry - it served to confirm our existing understanding. My team had sought advice previously as to whether there was a dual reporting requirement and been told there was not.

Sponsorship I raised with Ms Alexander that her press release of 1 February 2008 referred to her making a voluntary report of all donations received by her leadership campaign above the Parliament's £520 threshold and it contained list of 10 donations. However the entry on the Register of Members interests made on 1 February 2008 has nine entries under "Voluntary" and the 10th donation, from the "Phoenix Car Company" is registered under "Sponsorship", which is a category of registrable interest in the Schedule to the 2006 Act (reflecting the fact that a previous donation from Phoenix was received in the same session of Parliament towards a constituency Christmas calendar). I asked her if she accepted that, in relation to that donation, any argument as to whether the donation was a gift or about the prejudice test was not relevant since it had in fact been registered under "Sponsorship".

18. I had intended to publish the full list of donors after the announcement of the Electoral Commission's determination. For various reasons that was held up, but once you Standards Commissioner told me in January 2008 that you had provisionally concluded that the donations should be viewed as gifts under the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 I thought in these circumstances it would be appropriate to register the relevant donations right away. Having obtained the consent of the donors, I sought to register the donations as voluntary entries on the Register of Members' Interests. However when I wrote to the Standards Clerk with the information she came back to me and said she was unwilling to register the Phoenix Car Company as a voluntary registration because it was technically sponsorship if it was a gift. I sought to accommodate the insistence of the Clerk, pending consideration of the matter by the Crown Office - who seem not to have reached the view that it was an offence.

I pointed out that, with respect, the Crown Office had not pronounced on that; they had decided that a prosecution would not be appropriate in the full circumstances of the case.

19. They said that the law was highly ambiguous in this case.

20 As the Clerk was not willing to register the donation as a voluntary one, my only alternative would have been not to have registered that donation at all, which would not have met my objective of transparency. I complied with the guidance that I received.

I raised the issue that the Code of Conduct says that, in the end of the day, making an entry in the Register is the responsibility of the Member, not of the Clerks.

21. Yes, but this whole thing raises risks for the Parliament. If Members have an assurance, not only from the Clerks but from the Parliament's lawyers, without any ambiguity, and cannot rely upon it, the only way we can proceed is to start paying the bills of third party lawyers which no MSP, nor the SPCB, can afford.

The prejudice test 22. As regards the prejudice test for gifts, that would only apply if there was any attempt to conceal. I had no desire to conceal any of the names. I had asked the Clerks if I needed to register and was told "no". As soon as you Standards Commissioner gave a judgement on the matter, I put them in the public domain, with the consent of the donors.

I pointed out that that registration was voluntary (at least for 9 of the donations). The question was whether there had been a registrable interest. The purpose of the prejudice test was simply to ensure transparency where there could be possible influence on Parliamentary activities of the Member. Could a reasonable member of the public think that these gifts of almost £1000 could possible influence subsequent activity?

23. First of all, I do not believe that the donations in any respect prejudiced my ability to act in a disinterested manner in subsequent Parliamentary activity.

24. On City Holdings, Willie Haughey is a known donor to the Labour Party who has given a million pounds publicly and more. The campaign donation came from tickets purchased for a fund-raising lunch. I have never to my knowledge met Martin Dempsey and I have no idea what the interests of Strathvale Holdings are. John McGuire of Phoenix Honda is a known Labour supporter and one of the largest businessmen in Renfrewshire. He has given to my constituency Christmas calendar before, but I did not solicit this donation from him. GMB is the third largest union affiliated to the Labour Party.

25. Of the individuals, Paul Green was a known Labour supporter who was known to me by name only because I was aware that he was involved in the new Pollock shopping centre, but I had never met him or spoken to him. Neil Davidson was in Government for at least some of the same time period as me, and is known to me, though we haven't met for a while. He is a member of the Government at the moment. Mike Rutterford is a prominent businessman. I don't know his current interests but I have spoken at Archangel events when Enterprise Minister and following the Allander series.

26. Nick Kuenssberg I knew from ScotlandIS way back and I attended a dinner at the Glasgow Art School where he is Chair of the Board. I didn't know then, though I know now, that he was Deputy Chairman of SEPA. David Pitt-Watson was recently appointed General Secretary of the Labour Party.

27. John Lyons, I do not know well personally. He was the previous Labour MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden and lost that seat. He is close to David Whitton, my campaign treasurer. In general, the approach was that each member of the campaign would solicit one or two donations.

I asked about a newspaper report that there was an entry that showed the John Lyons donation coming originally from FirstGroup, for which John Lyons worked as a consultant.

28. There was no donation from FirstGroup. There was a donation from John Lyons.

I asked Ms Alexander why she thought individuals donated to the campaign, including those who did not know her personally, bearing in mind that this was a leadership campaign for an individual and not simply support for a party.

29. I would speculate that people may give for a variety of reasons: some are known Party supporters, others because they think I have a contribution to make to Scottish politics, and others because they were close to a member of the team. The monies were given to a leadership campaign, not to Wendy Alexander. I see the argument that I was the beneficiary of the sum, but people were giving to a leadership process. Had I been run down on the way to a hustings meeting, the cash would have accrued to my successor or the Labour Party, not my children. All parties need a leader. The risk of prejudice to a party leader is actually large donations to a party.I worry that a judgment about the prejudice test might be seen to call into question the motives of the donors. The names are already out there; I have met the transparency requirement by publishing them.

Other 31. It would be in the interests of all Members to have clarity on whether we require dual reporting or not.