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Better Together's coffers boosted by £1.3m in donations

A FORMER soldier with links to MI6, a Highland laird with his own whisky distillery, a stockbroker caught up in the Barings bank collapse, and the chairman of Arsenal Football Club have emerged as some of the new big donors to the pro-Union Better Together campaign.

BETTER TOGETHER: Chairman Alistair Darling.
BETTER TOGETHER: Chairman Alistair Darling.

The eclectic group are among 19 people who were last night named as collectively donating £1.3 million to the coffers of the anti-independence campaign. Each donated more than £7500.

Better Together said that since last declaring donations of £1.1m in April, it had received another £1,649,643, including £123,197 from 56 mid-tier donors who gave between £500 and £7500, and £218,446 from 17,378 small donors.

Since its launch in May 2012, total donations to Better Together have reached £2.7m.

The figures show almost one-quarter of this came from one man, Donald Houston, the owner of the Ardnamurchan Estate, who is also behind the Glenborrodale Castle Hotel and the Adelphi distillery, the westernmost in the UK.

The 53-year-old former engineer gave £100,000 in his own name, plus £500,000 via two companies, Rain Dance International and Beinn Bhuidhe. He said: "We have spent 300 years building a Union between our countries that has achieved so much.

"Ripping up that Union to satisfy the SNP is a ridiculous idea.

"I am in the fortunate position of being able to contribute financially to this incredibly important campaign. I hope that other people, in the same position as myself, are also willing to contribute whatever they can. This is the most important decision in the history of our country. We have to get it right."

The second-largest donor since April, giving £200,000, was stockbroker Andrew Fraser, who has also given more than £1m to the Tories since 2004.

As head of equities at Barings Merchant Bank in London in March 1992, Fraser was sent an infamous memo expressing concern about the power of a new hot-shot trader called Nick Leeson.

James Bax, regional manager of Barings South Asia, warned: "My concern is that once again we are in danger of setting up a structure which will subsequently prove disastrous and with which we will succeed in losing either a lot of money or client goodwill or probably both."

Three years later, unauthorised trading by Leeson out of the Singapore office resulted in the collapse of Barings with losses of £830m.

Other large donors included the author Christopher Sansom, who gave £133,000 on top of a previous £161,000, and Alan Savage, chairman of the international recruitment group Orion, who added £150,000 to an earlier £100,000.

Savage said he would effectively move his business out of Scotland if there was a vote for independence in next September's referendum.

"I'm making plans now where I'd still be able to live in Scotland, but the business would be fiscally based somewhere else.

"I'd be naive not to have a Plan B if Scotland became independent. This is how seriously I have to take the issue."

Former banker Sir Chippendale 'Chips' Keswick, Arsenal chairman since June, also gave £23,000, while Simon Crane, CEO of the security company Edinburgh International, which supplies bodyguards in Afghanistan, gave £15,000.

All the big donors who also gave to a political party were Conservative supporters.

But perhaps the most intriguing donor - and one likely to fuel internet conspiracy chatter - is Christopher Wilkins, the chairman of North British Wind Energy Ltd, who gave £10,000.

A former Welsh Guards officer, in 1995 he helped found the Mayfair-based private intelligence company Hakluyt alongside several former members of the secret intelligence service MI6. Hakluyt, which continues to employ ex-spies, was later found to have infiltrated and spied on Greenpeace on behalf of Shell and BP.

Wilkins, 72, last night said he had set up Hakluyt, but had left 15 years ago. "I am not in that game. I was on the edge of that game. I did Hakluyt. I helped set it up. It was an interesting operation at an interesting time and life has moved on."

He said the Greenpeace spying had been "way after my time," adding: "I'm not a spy. I haven't been a spy. It's not my world."

Ian Taylor, chief executive of the controversial oil trading firm Vitol, who gave £500,000 in the first wave of donations, gave nothing this time.

Under the referendum's rules, Better Together and Yes Scotland will each be allowed to spend up to £1.5m during the final 16 weeks of campaigning, known as the regulated period.

The SNP will be allowed to spend £1.344m, Labour £834,000, the Tories £396,000, the Scottish LibDems £201,000, and the Greens £150,000.Before the regulated period, there are no rules or limits whatsoever on donations or spending.

Blair MacDougall, campaign director of Better Together, which was officially launched last year by its chairman Alistair Darling, said he was humbled by the number of supporters who donated in tough times.

"However, we know the money that we have managed to raise ourselves is dwarfed by the almost limitless funds available to the Nationalists. Alex Salmond has shown that he is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on propaganda for his independence campaign.

"The only way that we can compete with this is if more Scots join the thousands of people who have donated to us so far."

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