Tom Gordon

Scottish Political Editor

ALISTAIR Darling’s former special adviser is helping the Tories at the Scotland Office, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

Catherine MacLeod, who worked for the former Labour Chancellor from 2007 to 2010, has been hired to provide media training to junior minister Lord Andrew Dunlop.

The coaching sessions are designed to prepare £68,700-a-year Dunlop, David Cameron’s adviser on Scotland during the referendum, for more TV and radio appearances.

It is understood MacLeod, a former political editor at the Herald, has had at least two sessions with Dunlop, who has now had trial outings on ITV Borders and local radio.

He used his ITV appearance to try and shut down SNP claims that he was the key architect of the poll tax in his early career, saying: “That is a complete myth.”

The Scotland Office last night refused to say how much MacLeod was paid, but said it was “the market rate” for someone with her experience of politics and the Scottish media.

With only Scottish MP, Cameron was forced to ennoble Dunlop so that he could serve, via the House of Lords, as the deputy to Scottish Secretary David Mundell.

The SNP denounced the peerage as “scandalous” when it was announced in May.

After leaving the Treasury, MacLeod set up a communications firm in 2011 “to provide effective and frank communications' advice for leaders who care about their reputation”.

During the referendum, when Darling was leading the unionist Better Together campaign, she was a regular pro-No pundit in broadcast and print.

An SNP spokesman said: “It is clear that the bonds forged between Labour and the Tories during the referendum - which were partially responsible for Labour being reduced to the same near wipe out position in Scotland as the Tories - are alive and well.

“It seems extraordinary that a former Labour special adviser should be training an unelected Tory Minister involved in imposing the Poll Tax on Scotland."

A Scotland Office spokesman said: “It is standard procedure to provide media training for new ministers. We paid the market rate for someone with wide experience in the Scottish media and politics. The costs are in line with those paid by the Scottish Government for similar individual media training sessions.”

MacLeod told the Sunday Herald: “I’m a professional media trainer. I don’t discuss my clients. I don’t give advice on policy to any party I have given media training to.”

Many SNP ministers have received media training at a cost of up to £1200 per person.

Last month the Sunday Herald revealed Paul Sinclair, a former spin doctor to ex-Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, had joined the Scottish Tories’ low-tax commission.